This was the movie that pretty much started the genre of modern gangster movies, and is regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.
In 1972, director Francis Ford Coppola released The Godfather, based on Mario Puzo’s best-selling novel of the same name. The cast included the already legendary Marlon Brando as the mob family patriarch, Vito Corleone, and James Caan, who was a fast rising star at the time, as his eldest son, Sonny, along with newcomers who would go on to have legendary film careers of their own like Al Pacino as the youngest of Vito’s three sons, Michael, and Diane Keaton as his straight-laced college girlfriend, Kay.
The story spans 10 years from 1945 to 1955, chronicling the transformation of Michael, his family, and its business as a whole through changing times. We see Michael go from a young WWII vet, eager to begin a life of his own after the war’s end, to a ruthless mafia boss who goes to lengths his father likely never would have…but then again….
All the drama, unforgettable dialogue, and characters are paired with an instantly recognizable score from Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola, make for one incredible film. It was the highest grossing movie of 1972 and won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Brando), and Best Adapted Screenplay (for Puzo and Coppola). It got seven other Oscar nominations, including nods for Pacino, Caan, and Robert Duvall for Best Supporting Actor in his role as Tom Hagan, the Corleone family’s adopted son and attorney.
Today, it’s regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. And, as we do, let’s take a look at the guns used in this seminal piece of cinema—and it’s certainly not rife with shotguns and Tommy Guns like the James Cagney era gangster pictures.
S&W Model 27
As far as mob movies go, The Godfather starts slow, beginning with a fairly peaceful wedding, during which we are introduced to one seriously scary individual, the Corleone family’s heaviest hitter, Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana).
Later, as Luca prepares for a meeting with Sollozzo and the Tattaglias at the request of Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), we see him prepare by strapping on a bulletproof vest beneath his clothes, and readying a revolver.
We don’t get a great look at the revolver, but it is either a Smith & Wesson Model 27 snub-nose, or a larger SUW N-frame pistol. Since this part of the movie takes place in December 1945, it’s more likely that the revolver would be a pre-war S&W “Registered Magnum.” This is supoprted by the fact that the front sight on the gun in the movie isn’t flush with the barrel, indicating it’s a pre-war Magnum S&W in .357.
Unfortunately, neither the vest nor the revolver do much to help Luca at the meeting. His vest is later delivered to Sonny Coreleone (James Caan) with a fish wrapped in it.
Sonny: “What the hell is this?”
Clamenza: “Old Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”
Assassination Attempt on Vito Corleone
Beretta M1934 and Colt Detective Special
The next bit of actual violence comes when two gunmen, in one of the most memorable and parodied scenes in the movie, come upon Vito in the street while he’s buying fruit from a vendor. They gun him down with their pistols, leaving him for dead in the street.
One of the hitmen who shoots at Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) carries a Beretta M1934 semi-auto pistol in .32 ACP.
The other hitman uses a .38 snubnose Colt Detective Special revolver. This gun was extremely popular among criminals at the time because of its compact size, decent accuracy despite a 2-inch barrel, and holding six rounds instead of five like many comparably sized .38 revolvers.
As we learn later, Vito was hit with six shots. Though he endures a long convalescence, he ultimately survives the attempted hit.
Smith & Wesson Model 36
Unfortunatley for Vito, his son, Fredo (John Cazale) is acting as his driver on the day of the hit.
Vito’s regular driver, Paulie, called out sick that day. We later learn Paulie was in on the plot and helped set Vito up. For this, he is given three bullets to the back of the head in the infamous “Leave the gun, take the cannoli” scene.
During the hit on Vito, Fredo tries to get out of the car and come to his father’s aid, but in his typical fashion, he immediately drops his nickel Smith & Wesson Model 36 revolver as the hitmen fire their shots. He is then seen sitting on the curb by his wounded father, crying with the revolver dangling from his fingers.
Smith & Wesson Model 36
Sonny Corleone also carries a Model 36 and can be seen holding it just after the assassination attempt on his father when a knock at his kitchen door makes him nervous. It turns out the knock is just Clamenza bringing news, but that .38 doesn’t do Sonny any good when his time comes, but we’ll get to that shortly.
Smith & Wesson Model 36 with Taped Grip
Perhaps the most infamous gun in the entire film series is also an S&W Model 36, slightly modified for hitman use, that Clamenza gives Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) as he sets out to get revenge for his father’s murder.
Clamenza tells Michael, as they practice with the gun in his basement, that he put a special tape on the grip and the trigger that won’t allow police to pull fingerprints from the gun.
This is also, obviously, the gun that is hidden behind the tank of the old-fashioned toilet in the Italian restaurant in the Bronx when Michael meets with Virgil Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) and Capt. McClusky (Sterling Hayden). During the tense meeting, Michael asks to be allowed to go to the bathroom, before which he is frisked for a second time. Once in the bathroom, after a frightening few seconds where he thinks the gun might not be there, he finally finds it taped behind the tank and tucks it into his waistband.
Michael sits at the table, tensing the broken jaw he got courtesy of McClusky, as Sollozzo talks. As the sound of a passing train reaches its zenith, Michael stands and shoots both men twice before following Clamenza’s instructions to drop the gun as he walks out, not looking anyone else in the restaurant in the eye.
Michael’s Exile to Sicily
12 Gauge Double Barreled Shotguns with Exposed Hammers
After murdering the rival gangster and the corrupt police captain, Michael has to go into exile until the heat dies down back at home. He heads to Sicily so he can be protected by family friends in the old country.
The two men assigned as Michael’s bodyguards, Fabrizio (Angelo Infanti) and Calo (Franco Citti) carry 12 gauge double-barrel shotguns with exposed hammers. The novel by Mario Puzo states that the guns are Lupara shotguns, which would be even more cut down. Instead, the movie shows the short shotguns with full stocks.
Thompson M1928 Submachine Guns
Sonny Corleone’s assassination is one of the bloodiest scenes in all three Godfather movies. His enemies take advantage of his temper to lure him into a trap as he rushes to his sister’s aid, who has been beaten by her husband, Carlo, who is also in on the hit.
As he’s stopped at a toll plaza, the toll-taker disappears and a group of Barzini’s hitmen appear, all armed with Thompson M1928 submachine guns with drum magazines. They pepper the car with .45 ACP bullets before nearly tearing Sonny apart with machine gun fire as he blindly lurches out of his swiss-cheesed car.
Willi Cicci’s M1911A1
When Michael returns from Sicily after his brother’s murder back home and the murder of his new wife in Sicily, he bides his time before exacting revenge on all the mob bosses who betrayed his family and took part in the attempted assassination of his father and the successful hit on Sonny.
He orchestrates a number of assassinations to take place at the same time, while he is standing as the godfather to his sister’s baby.
Above, we see Don Otilleo Cuneo (Rudy Bond) shot to death by Willi Cicci (Joe Spinell) with an M1911A1 as he is trapped in a revolving door.
Madsen M50 9mm
When it comes time for Don Phillip Tattaglia (Victor Rendina) to get his ticket punches, Rocco Lampone (Tom Rosqui) and another hitman burst into the room where he is in bed with his mistress and kill both of them with Danish 9mm Madsen M50 submachine guns. In an earlier scene, we see Rocco prepping one of the disassembled Madsen M50s.
Al Nieri’s Smith & Wesson Victory Model
For the hit on Don Emilio Barzini (Richard Conte), Al Neri (Richard Bright) uses a Smith & Wesson Victory Model revolver when he is disguised in his old police uniform on the steps of a courthouse.
He pretends to give Barzini’s driver a parking ticket as he waits for his boss to come down the long staircase. When Barzini is close enough, Al shoots the driver, his bodyguards, and finally Barzini, who falls nearly to the bottom of the concrete steps.
Clamenza’s Double-Barrel Hammerless Shotgun
Clamenza uses a hammerless, cut-down double-barrel shotgun when he kills the final mob boss, Stracci, in an elevator. As he ascends the stairs, Clamenza conceals the shotgun in a box of flowers.
The final act of Michael’s revenge is killing his sister’s husband, Carlo, for the part he played in setting up Sonny for his brutal murder, but this task is not accomplished with a gun, but rather with a garrote from behind while Carlo is seated in a car.