‘The Godfather’: Francis Ford Coppola Used a Real Horse Head for 1 Famous Scene

The Godfather is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month, and with any anniversary comes a look back at highlights and fond memories. The Godfather has plenty of iconic scenes, one being the scene where a man wakes up with a severed horse head in his bed. According to director Francis Ford Coppola, the production team pulled no punches and used an actual horse head for this scene.

Putting a horse head in someone’s bed is a unique way to send a message

Francis Ford Coppola says the horse head use in The Godfather was real.
Francis Ford Coppola | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

In The Godfather, the horse head scene occurs when the Corleone family tries to force Jack Woltz (John Marley), a Hollywood film producer, to put Johnny Fontane (Al Martino) in a role. Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), the Corleone’s lawyer, is sent to talk to Woltz. Hagen visits Woltz’s stable during the scene, where Woltz shows off his prize black stallion. 

The two sit down for dinner, and when Woltz declines to work with Fontane, Hagen gets up and leaves. When Woltz wakes up the next day, he’s covered in blood and discovers the severed head of his stallion sitting at the foot of the bed. The scene is shocking but effective in portraying how ruthless the Corleone family is.

Francis Ford Coppola used a real horse head in ‘The Godfather’ but did not kill a horse to do it

In a 2015 interview with Fox 5 in Washington DC, Coppola explained that the horse head was real, but they used a horse already set to be slaughtered. The crew went to a “dog food company” and found a horse similar to the one in The Godfather

“We didn’t kill the horse,” Coppola said. “Most horses are killed for dog food. So we went to the dog food company, and we looked at the horses before they were slaughtered. I didn’t do it, but the art director found one that looked like the real horse and I said when you kill that horse we want the head.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, the company sent the head in “a box with the head wrapped in ice.” Of course, after the film came out, Coppola received many passionate letters from animal activists who thought that the film killed a horse for the film. While it is a real horse head, it’s not exactly what they thought. 

The studio wanted Coppola to use a fake head but he didn’t like how it looked

For the scene, Paramount urged Coppola to use a prop horse head. However, according to TIME, Coppola didn’t like the “mock-up.” Still, he did end up effectively using the prop head. Business Insider reports that Coppola ended up using the fake horse head for rehearsal scenes, but when it was time for the actual shot, he swapped in the real head. Reportedly, Marley was unaware of this move, and his screams were “absolutely genuine.”

According to NBC 4 in Los Angeles, the prop horse head went up for auction in 2013. The horse head was part of an auction of other Hollywood memorabilia that included miniature bike wheels from E.T. and a crate from Citizen Kane.

The horse head scene will soon be featured in a restoration of The Godfather trilogy for the 50th anniversary. The trilogy will be released in 4k Ultra HD on March 22. 

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