‘The Godfather’: An ‘Offer’ You Shouldn’t Refuse

By David Weiner

It’s been more than 50 years since Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER stunned cinema-goers, became an Oscar magnet with 11 Academy Award nominations (and three wins including Best Picture), and saved Paramount Pictures from becoming a write-off for its parent conglomerate Gulf + Western.

As part of the golden anniversary celebration of the 1972 film, Paramount+ premiered THE OFFER in 2022, a 10-episode series recounting the struggles and triumphs of the making of THE GODFATHER from the point of view of rookie producer Albert S. Ruddy (played by Miles Teller). I was late to the Paramount+ party, but finally got to watch the streaming series and really enjoyed the humor and audacity on display in the telling of this against-all-odds, (mostly) true tale.

From real-life mafia interference to almost daily budget and personality roadblocks thrown in Ruddy’s way (that threatened to not only derail the film and his job, but put his actual life in danger), I could really appreciate the guts it took to put out all of these fires and manage a tenuous tightrope connection with the New York mob while still maintaining any semblance of sanity. I also got a much greater appreciation of Paramount chief Robert Evans and his guns-a-blazin’ style of following his creative instincts and charming the pants off everyone around him while running a studio — often while high on cocaine. Time to break out my copy of The Kid Stays in the Picture and re-read some of the more insane GODFATHER anecdotes!

As an indie filmmaker myself, who often has to navigate larger-than-life personalities and scheduling/budget issues, I connected with the resourcefulness of the filmmakers on display who refused to take “no” for an answer in order to see their vision (or most of it, anyway) achieved on the big screen, as well as having to swallow the many compromises. What makes a great producer is, above all else, having the wherewithal and moxie to tackle any challenge head-on while managing complicated personalities and Catch-22 situations. Ruddy demonstrates this capability in spades, with plenty of drama and missteps experienced along the way to show that he’s still human.

Back on the 40th anniversary of Coppola’s Oscar-winning masterpiece, publisher Insight Editions released a wonderful coffee-table book called The Godfather: The Official Motion Picture Archives, a detailed tome which contained never-before seen stills and production materials, insightful anecdotes, and rare, removable memorabilia from all three GODFATHER films. At the time, I was Senior Editor at ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT Online, and as a fan of the trilogy, I enjoyed the opportunity to chat with the book’s author, Peter Cowie, about the film’s legacy for the site.

“I think it’s a film that in one way suggests the great days of Hollywood, like CASABLANCA, that really endured from that period,” said the film historian. “At the same time it is timeless. It’s as modern as yesterday’s crime … and it has an almost mythical quality, like The Odyssey or The Iliad. … Every new generation seems to like it; it doesn’t seem to have any wrinkles, or date at all.”

A saga by Mario Puzo that Coppola likened to a story of king with three sons, THE GODFATHER stars Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire and John Cazale in the tale of an Italian immigrant who establishes roots in America and grows to power using organized crime, then must pass his dynasty along to a reluctant son. With the first film ranked at No. 2 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, THE GODFATHER trilogy as a whole garnered 29 Oscars including Best Picture wins for the first two installments.

Interesting behind-the-scenes trivia that Cowie delves into in The Godfather: The Official Motion Picture Archives includes how Coppola was actually Paramount’s third choice for director, and how studio execs initially wanted either Robert Redford or Ryan O’Neal to play Brando’s character of Don Corleone. The book also contains replications of archival memorabilia contained in red envelopes interspersed throughout, including a page from Puzo’s novel annotated during the writing of the screenplay; publicity posters for the Godfather films; and an intriguing promotional leaflet on the prosthetic teeth created especially for Brando and other stars of the film to help establish the look of their characters.

In addition to its “gallery of rogues and semi-virtuous people alike,” one of the reasons Cowie felt that THE GODFATHER endures was due to its operatic quality: “I think it’s that swirling feeling of being swept along on a tide of destiny, above everyday life, which separates it from a very good film like GOODFELLAS. … I think people want to escape into that grandeur of great opera when they see a film like this. That may be the secret.”

Cowie concluded, “I think we also have to ask ourselves whether we would be talking about THE GODFATHER on quite such an elevated scale if there hadn’t been a GODFATHER: PART II. I think PART II extended the story, enriched the character in particular of Michael (played by Pacino), and gave the whole story the element of a saga. … I think on the whole it added dimension to THE GODFATHER itself in retrospect. When people talk about THE GODFATHER they also have GODFATHER: PART II in mind.”



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