The Godfather Shoots Abroad

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, archivist in Research Services at the National Archives at College Park, MD.

This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the motion picture The Godfather.  Even before that movie saw its release, the studio began work on the sequel – The Godfather Part II.  Photography began in October 1973, and the picture came out in December 1974.

Some of the action in Part II takes place in Cuba in the late 1950s during the Cuban Revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.  Cuba was off limits as a place to film the movie in 1973, so the studio looked for alternative locations to film the scenes that ostensibly took place there.  Those scenes were ultimately filmed in the Dominican Republic.  As a stand-in for the U.S. embassy in Havana, director Francis Ford Coppola wanted to film on the grounds of the U.S. embassy in Santo Domingo.  The request came to the Department from Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, and former special assistant to Lyndon Johnson.

The Department of State sent the following telegram to the embassy in Santo Domingo asking for its views about the proposed filming and about the host government’s reaction to filming there.

The embassy sent the following reply approving the request to use the embassy’s grounds, offering a comment on the use of its building in place of the one in Havana, and indicating that the government of the Dominican Republic would be “favorable” to the filming.

no objections to using Santo Domingo embassy for filming
Telegram from US Embassy Santo Domingo to Dept of State, Oct 29, 1973 (NAID 654231)

Here is what the two facilities look like.

b&w photo of govt building- 7 story concrete office bldg w/American flag in front
Havana Chancery Office Building (NAID 24210910; Local Identifier: 59-OBO-171-HIS_1585)
color photo of 1 story ranch bldg w/circle drive in front
Santo Domingo, Chancery Office Building, 1972 (NAID 24211442; Local Identifier: 59-OBO-178-HIS_1809)

The Godfather Part II won accolades from critics and was a box-office success.  Among others, it won the Academy Award for Best Picture.  In recognition of its importance, in 1993, the Library of Congress added that motion picture to the National Film Registry.  Under the provisions of the National Film Preservation Act, the Library annually adds 25 “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” motion pictures to that list.

Sources:  Department of State to U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo, October 25, 1973, 1973STATE211154 and U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo to Department of State, October 29, 1973, 1973SANTO04407, Electronic Telegrams, 1973 (NAID 654231), Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973-79, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.  My colleague Nick Natanson provided invaluable help with the photographs.