It’s one of the most famous death scenes in movie history. Sonny Corleone is lured into a trap by Barzini with the help of his shifty brother in law Carlo. Sonny races off from his families compound in Atlantic Beach and leaves his protective body guards behind, drives up to a Long Island parkway toll booth and is killed in a horrific but spectacular murder.
Two historical questions have lingered about the scene. The first is fictional, the second is factual. Where was this scene supposed to have taken place, and where was it actually shot.
Where Was The Scene Shot?
Since the second question does not rely on the interpretation of a fictitious novel, I thought I would deal with it first. In Jenny Jones’ detailed non-fiction guide The Annotated Godfather she states the location of the hit to be Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. Bennett Field is also mentioned by other sources, including a site called District 9 which not only lists the location, but the filming date of June 22, 1971, and the cost of $100,000.
However, the website Godfather Trilogy states that the Bennett field location is not correct, and that the scene was in fact shot at Mitchell Field on Long Island. Both Mithell and Bennett locations are abandoned air fields, either could have made the scene work. But Blogger ‘Garrett’ at citynoise.org does a nice job of showing an exact location of an abandoned runway that is in existence today at Mitchell that looks to be correct.
This is an aerial of Garret’s Mitchell field site, just northwest of where the Charles Lindbergh Blvd goes over the Meadowrbook Parkway.
Where Did The Shooting Take Place
Since it is a ficitious shooting, the better question might be, where is it depicted to have taken place. The common belief is that it happened near Point Lookout, since you have to pass through Point Lookout from where Sonny was coming. There was a tiny one car toll gate positioned on the Loop Parkway just before it terminates at the Meadowbrook Parkway not far from Point Lookout.
Steve Anderson’s NYC Roads has a description of the plaza by former attendant Gene Biancheri who worked at it. You can see the small structure in this 1953 aerial shown below. When you approached the toll you could pay to head south to Jones Beach, or go north up onto the Meadowbrook Parkway away from the beach.
The murder is believed to have taken place in the book in the late 1940′s, although in the scene can be heard the radio call from Bobby Thompson’s famous home run game of 1951. The killing in the book happens at night, in the movie it is during the day. In the book he is in a Buick, in the movie it’s a Lincoln. Nevertheless the Godfather novel gives details as to specifically where Sonny was gunned down…
… He headed the Buick toward the causeway that would take him over the water from Long Beach to the parkways on the other side of Jones Beach. He always used this route when he went to New York … The causeway was badly lit, there was not a single car. Far ahead he saw the white cone of the manned tollbooth. There were other tollbooths beside it, but they were staffed only during the day, for heavier traffic. Sonny started braking the Buick and at the same time searched his pockets for change…
There are two main inconsistencies from Puzo’s toll which do not jive with the Loop Parkway toll. Puzo describes ‘several’ unmanned booths’, but the Loop parkway only had one. And he describes Sonny as already being on the Jones Beach Causeway, the Loop comes before you get to the causeway. (Jones Beach Causeway was the old name for the Wantagh Parkway. When Jones Beach was first built it was the only roadway to Jones Beach, and thus was called The Jones Beach causeway.)
Again, from the book, just after the killing
… Afterward, all four men, the three actual assasins and the bogus toll collector, were in their car and speeding toward the Meadowbrook Parkway, on the other side of Jones Beach.
By saying ‘The other side of Jones Beach’ Puzo has to mean the men are headed back to the ‘Meadowbrook Parkway’ from the Wantagh. The Loop Parkway and Meadowbrook are on the same side of Jones Beach, the Wantagh on the other.
So, if we are sure Puzo means the Wantagh, we have another big problem. The Wantagh has a toll plaza to enter the beach, but not to leave. Those going north from the beach don’t have to pay a toll and that’s where Sonny was heading. If at one time a toll was there I have not been able to find evidence of it.
Left is the Wantagh toll gates in 1954. Three toll gates for traffic heading south, (today there are 6), but no sign of a toll that ever applied to cars northbound.
So in the end, if we need a real toll that actually existed for Sonny to have passed through, it would have to be the Loop Parkway toll. If we need the real location described, it would have to be the Wantagh toll. It appears the toll both itself, as well as the killing, was a work of fiction.
You Tube Link To Scene - Circa 1940 map of the area below.