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The Joke James Caan Pulled On The Set Of The Godfather That Made Marlon Brando Laugh

Sonny Corleone's death in "The Godfather" was named the best death scene in film history by Brian Lloyd of entertainment.ie, who cited it as his favorite among the "many scenes in 'The Godfather' that are instantly recognizable and define the film." The actor who played Sonny, James Caan, died on July 6, and while he had many memorable roles throughout his storied career, it's hard to deny that "The Godfather" has a special kind of nostalgia associated with it.

"The Godfather" is filled with tension throughout and is often bloody, but it also has its share of tender moments and even a few funny ones. One of those comes when Corleone family lieutenant Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana) awkwardly rehearses and delivers his words of tribute to Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) at his daughter Connie's (Talia Shire) wedding. In filming the scene, Caan and director Francis Ford Coppola couldn't resist a little joke at Montana's expense, and Brando joined right in.

Francis Ford Coppola prodded Caan into playing a practical joke on his co-stars

In an April 2022 interview with Collider's Steve Weintraub, James Caan recounted how Francis Ford Coppola encouraged him to play a small practical joke on his fellow actors. Just before filming the scene where Luca comes to pay his tribute to Don Vito, Coppola pulled Caan aside and asked him to do something to loosen Lenny Montana up. 

Caan took a piece of white tape and wrote "f— you" on it and put it on Montana's tongue. He told Weintraub, "[Brasi] opened [the] door and he said, 'Don Corleone,' and everybody started laughing, because you could see the F U on his tongue. And Brando laughed. Everybody laughed." But when the crew and actors reset to film the scene for real, Caan said Brando apparently decided to return the practical joke favor. 

"We go and shoot it," Caan said. "And [Brasi] comes in and he says, 'Don Corleone,' and [Brando] opens his mouth and says, 'Luca.' And he had F U too. 'F— you too,' he wrote on his tongue."

The gentle teasing contrasts with the tone of The Godfather

James Caan said it wasn't all fun and games on the set of "The Godfather." After giving the details of his tape joke, the actor told Collider's Steve Weintraub, "The rest of the time we worked, we worked pretty hard. It was good. But I had a lot of fun."

Al Pacino told The New York Times in March 2022 that Caan, Marlon Brando, and Robert Duvall (who played family consigliere Tom Hagen) all did whatever they could to make him more comfortable on set. "I was young, I was unknown, and they were so comforting," Pacino said. "There was a love there ... They were becoming those older brothers and advisers that they play in the film. Those kinds of emotions and colors in them came out."

While the teasing between Caan, Brando, Francis Ford Coppola, and Lenny Montana might seem out of place in the dramatic and often violent world of "The Godfather," the film is also about how a close-knit family and their allies care for one another. Sometimes that manifests itself in tape on the tongue.