The Offer – Adults Only
You might have known this by now, but I adore The Godfather. With its complex characters, romantic settings, brutal portrayals of violence, and a thoughtful dive into the collective psyche of whoever had even the remotest involvement within the Mafia, it emerged as a hallmark in literature before taking the world by storm in film. Its textured portrayal and storytelling burrowed a special place in my heart for the same reasons it is hailed as a masterpiece in the eyes of countless readers and viewers everywhere.
Of course, no one said making a film like this was easy. In fact, making The Godfather was such a difficult task that it almost never made it as a film. It was a known fact for many hardcore Godfather fans but generally not for the average moviegoer.
That’s where The Offer comes in. Having premiered on Paramount+, this ten-episode miniseries chronicled the arduous journey the cast and crew upheld in translating The Godfather into the cinematic masterpiece it had become. But now, the question is, had it successfully translated the backstory of The Godfather just as well as The Godfather perfectly translated the backstory of Michael Corleone?
Now, let me start with the story, although, let’s face it, it goes all over the place. First, the show focused on the film’s producer, Albert S. Ruddy. He took on Hollywood after developing the latest computer program and got his first shot at producing when he landed his first job at CBS co-creating Hogan’s Heroes.
After that became a success, he was offered a promotion to produce his first-ever motion picture for Paramount. Soon, he expressed interest in making The Godfather into a film after hearing of its recent success as a national bestseller. And once he got the ball rolling, he and Paramount head Robert Evans roped in all kinds of talents to join him on his project, including secretary Bettye McCartt, filmmaking newcomer Francis Ford Coppola, and Godfather author Mario Puzo.
But they’re not all the people Albert enlisted his help on to aid him in making the film. Along the filmmaking process, he secretly enlisted the creative consultancy of the head of the Colombo family, Joe Columbo. The Italian American Civil Rights League expressed disgust over Mario Puzo’s book’s portrayal of them in a negative light, down to the usage of the word ‘Mafia’ in the book. And the more Albert met with Joe, the more involvement he started having in his business affairs. In other words, whatever supervision Albert had over the production of The Godfather also gradually encouraged Mafia entanglements, down to the familial matters dealt with within the Mafia regime.
But the direct connections to the Mafia weren’t the only parts of the production putting Albert and his colleagues on edge; they had all kinds of hurdles to jump through, such as… ooh, where to begin? Francis Ford Coppola got started as a filmmaker. Some of the acting choices he, Albert, and their companions decided on were jeered at. The Paramount team reacted to the movie’s intentions with uncertain quibbles. The film was already becoming too long. Francis wanted to take his crew beyond Los Angeles and shoot the scenes set in New York City and Sicily in their designated areas to film it right. And once Albert’s involvement with the Mafia was made public, rifts started brewing between Robert Evans and Charlie Bluhdorn, owner of Gulf+Western, who owned Paramount back in the day.
With so many odds stacked against them, it seemed like they had absolutely no chance to make this film work. So how can and did they pull through and make the movie as they envisioned it?
As with most serial ensemble dramas, this show had tons of major interweaving storylines to which I had to pay close attention and not just Albert Ruddy’s dilemmas. I had to focus on the stories concerning Bettye McCartt, Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo, Robert Evens, Charlie Bluhdorn, and Joe Columbo, and how all their interconnecting lives and stories played a substantial role in the development of The Godfather as a film. With Albert, his journey seemed more intent on highlighting his rise from small-time computer mechanic to overseeing what was to become one of the most groundbreaking films of all time. With some of the supporting characters, they all had time to leave a dent every time they made an appearance. But strangely enough, not all of them felt like they were given the attention necessary to highlight their personal lives. The closest one I could think that hit its mark was Mario Puzo.
In his side of the story, he was a struggling author who complied with gang members because he and his wife owed them a substantial amount of money. But once he completed The Godfather, a book he intended to write just for them, the book became a smash hit, despite drawing some ire from plenty of people across the board, including the IACRL and especially Frank Sinatra. He wanted the film’s production to be shut down due to the story’s unflattering portrayal of him as Johnny Fontaine.
As I dwelt on this more, I seemed to have uncovered a peculiar pattern with this. First, Gene Kelly hated Malcolm McDowell’s guts for the ‘Singing in the Rape’ scene from A Clockwork Orange, and now, here was Frank Sinatra verbally assaulting Mario Puzo for portraying him as Johnny Fontaine, a Mafia affiliate. What is it with early 70s cinema and them sullying the image of famous music artists of the 50s?
But I digress. The rest of the show chronicled the rich yet troubled production of The Godfather through the journeys of Albert Ruddy, Francis Ford Coppola, and the close associates as they banded together to make The Godfather the film they desperately wanted it to be.
The storylines concerning the main leads sometimes felt uneven. And I mean uneven as in some of them were more compelling than the others. As I said, Mario Puzo’s story was interesting, but I don’t recall Albert talking very much in-depth about his background outside of being a computer mechanic. Sometimes, I remember Francis talking about his family backgrounds, such as his Italian heritage and his father, Carmine. Francis said that Carmine would always have made music inspired by Sicily as it was when he grew up there. Little tidbits such as this were quite fascinating to watch and pick up on. When you dive more into their personal lives and dilemmas in and out of The Godfather, they’d feel so intimate and tender that you’d forget half the time that you already know some of them as Hollywood icons of acting, directing, writing, etc.
That’s one thing this show pulled off that I admired: taking the people who made The Godfather a breakthrough film and making them interesting, likable, intricate, and distinguished. Each one demonstrated their talents and positions within the Hollywood elite, and they attempted to seek out some common ground concerning the movie’s production and the best direction to go with it.
Though I felt like the storylines were generally inconsistent, the one thing that I thought held this show together was the performances. So many of the actors perfectly translated their characters, who were already well-regarded actors and technicians of our time, anyway, and conveyed them with the same dignity, background, and social positioning we’d have expected out of them in real life.
Miles Teller felt generally confident in his role as Albert Ruddy. He seemed to portray him as a slightly cockeyed, fastidious guy who wanted to stick to his gun and finish the project he worked on the right way, even if his objective and motivations to get there were occasionally questionable. Unfortunately, it got so questionable that Albert’s commitment to the production of The Godfather started depriving him of what he valued, like his relationship with his wife. She was a businesswoman and even wanted to propose other film projects for Ruddy to pursue before being shrugged off every time he resumed his focus on The Godfather.
I also had a soft spot for Juno Temple as Bettye McCart. She started as a secretary, usually transferring telephone calls or taking messages. Nonetheless, her personality was feisty, determined, and always surefooted in her determination to go far beyond what was expected, whether her reasons were personal or just business. She almost felt like a feistier Lucy Brennan. And if that’s not compelling enough, her involvement in The Godfather caused her to run into unexpected opportunities that unveiled gifts she may not have known she had.
Dave Fogler felt surprisingly delightful as then-newbie director Francis Ford Coppola. He had an adamant personality, as expected from a new director who was ready to take on his first ever major film project. However, he also had the ambitious but strict visions of a director who had hardcore commitments to expressing his art the way he wanted.
Patrick Gallo proved himself quite expressive as Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather. As the first part of the show demonstrated to us, he and his wife had a rather troubled life around the time he wrote the book. And once his dilemmas back home were behind him, Puzo expressed some eclectic tendencies. Among them were indulging in Italian foods despite his wife trying to ward him away from them for dietary reasons and his friendship with Coppola as they wrote the screenplay together.
Matthew Goode was just a ball of charisma as Robert Evans, the then-head of Paramount Pictures. He had a colorful range of expressions as Evans wrapped his head around the production choices made with The Godfather, including the—in his opinion, deluded—decision to cast Al Pacino as Michael Corleone. But Goode also displayed moments of severe discouragement, like when Evans flew to see his wife, who was shooting for a movie in Mexico, only to discover that she may have slept with Steve McQueen behind his back. So, these expressions and background dilemmas made him more compelling as a character, especially as he became more begrudgingly supportive of The Godfather’s production the further it came in nearing its completion.
Frank John Hughes felt slightly sleazy as singer Frank Sinatra. Outside of a few moments of modesty, he mostly felt snappy every time he was even questioned about The Godfather and how much damage he thought it did to him as a professional singer. But this was all just one facet of his personality I remember catching from him here in the show. Maybe if there were moments of him singing his tunes or something, we’d be reminded of not just who he was but also how he had multiple sides to his personality.
And I must say, out of the guest roles in the show, the one actor I thought was utterly marvelous was Justin Chambers as Marlon Brando. In the few scenes he had in the show, Chambers embraced Brando’s subtle, manly, elegant, and sophisticated charms that may have been similar to what he displayed when he wasn’t playing Vito Corleone in The Godfather. I also recall him feeling very well done for one particular instance I’ll mention soon in this review.
But now, onto some of the actors who I did not think did such a good job. I said many of the actors in the show were marvelous; I never said all of them were.
Giovanni Ribisi felt like he expressed a lot of determination in his character, Joe Colombo, the head of the Colombo family. However, at the same time, his deliveries were so drowned out by the tone of his voice that I wondered if he tried to hone the nasal voice that Marlon Brando did in The Godfather or if this was how Joe Colombo’s voice was in real life, or whatever. I don’t know. For me, something about the voice just didn’t fit.
Burn Gorman, as Charles Bluhdorn, the head of Gulf+Western, was always stubborn and quick to respond in any situation. However, his exclamations and reactions to the ongoing predicaments concerning either Paramount or The Godfather’s development sometimes felt too exaggerated and colorful. For some reason, something about his facial expressions and body language reminded me more than once of Mickey Rooney’s performance from Breakfast at Tiffany’s as Mr. Yunioshi.
The next one may have stemmed more from his overall participation than his acting or characteristic flaws. And I’m talking about Colin Hanks as Paramount studio executive Barry Lapidus. Whereas Robert Evans went from hesitant complier to supportive team player in the production of The Godfather, Lapidus had misgivings about the movie’s chances of success from the start, especially as seen through his conversations with Charlie Bluhdorn. His conversations resulted in some intriguing butting of heads over the creative directions of the movie, but I didn’t find myself entranced by his role in the story. Though I will say, as the son of famous actor Tom Hanks, Colin did a terrific job playing his character with a high sense of dignity and potential knowhow for Paramount’s welfare. I think the fault lied more in the presentation of his character than in the performance.
In the few times he appeared in the show, Al Pacino looked like he was 100% new to the filmmaking business, just like Francis Ford Coppola before him. But the actor portraying Pacino, Anthony Ippolito, just felt like he didn’t give his character enough roughness to make him stand out. But maybe that’s just me. Perhaps the slight softness in his voice was how Al Pacino’s voice was like around the time he started in The Godfather. Not only that, but whenever I saw him playing Al Pacino playing Michael Corleone, he nailed down the intimidating dispositions that Pacino gave Michael Corleone in The Godfather.
Around the time I got set to watch this show, I noticed how many critics felt turned off by The Offer, whereas many TV goers expressed enthusiasm over it. I didn’t know where my thoughts lay as I watched the show, so I breezed my way through the show with somewhat of an open mind and a close concentration on the narrative events that resulted in The Godfather’s fruition.
After finishing up The Offer, I still didn’t know where the problems, if any, lied.
Some of the storylines were not as interesting as others, yet the overall narrative was still such that it kept me engaged enough to want to know what would happen and how the cast and crew could have pulled it off in making The Godfather. And while I thought some of the actors who played Joe Colombo, Al Pacino, and Charlie were a bit off, I didn’t think they were bad enough to take away from the overall intriguing experience I felt watching the show.
I will admit, the only part of the show that felt a little tacky was the story of editor Aram A. Avakian and this one guy who wanted to sabotage the production of The Godfather. The idea of the movie’s editor being in cahoots with someone else to shut down the production of The Godfather was interesting, but I don’t think it had enough buildup to it. So, it ultimately felt like a last-minute add-on to milk more drama out of the already hectic dilemmas. That is, unless this happened in real life, too. It also feels like a relief, though; at least it never attempted to go full-on milking on the melodrama associated with this kind of underhandedness like in Netflix’s Hollywood. Yet, even that, I don’t think, was the general problem with the show.
But then, as I glided my way through the show, I reflected on some of the other films that told similar stories to what The Offer told but did so more effectively. For instance, look at Saving Mr. Banks. It chronicled PL Travers’ hesitation to allow her books to be adapted into a film by Walt Disney. It also told that story with a balance of sternness and charisma, as Mary Poppins did with its own story. Also, look at Mank and how Herman Mankewitz wrote most of his personal life into Citizen Kane’s screenplay as he penned it and got it all set for Orson Welles. It was even shot in black and white while recreating some scenery positions like Citizen Kane. These two movies had two things in common. One, they told the story of the production of the films in question by emphasizing their focus on the one person who had the closest ties to the story they wanted to tell. And two, they benefited from embodying some aspects of the movies they were about and imbuing them into the story of the films’ productions.
However, by comparison, The Offer, though undoubtedly a fascinating look at the twists and turns that came with making The Godfather, felt too much like a standard Hollywood biopic. Instead, it simply demonstrated the ins and outs of Hollywood life, from TV making to moviemaking, and how it all played out with the usual drama and quarrels that came with showbiz. I can’t even recall if any elements of the show were invented for the show or recreated precisely how it played out in real life. But all I can say is, whereas Saving Mr. Banks and Mank benefited from having unique artistic touches to them to help themselves stand out more, this just felt too straightforward to me.
But that’s not to say The Offer didn’t have any elements like that concerning The Godfather. There were a few scenes I can think of that left me a bit entranced because of how much they emulated what I felt from The Godfather.
In one scene, Albert, Francis, Mario, and Bettye all approached Marlon Brando in his house after he accepted their offer to play Vito Corleone for The Godfather. What followed was a heartfelt conversation about Brando’s public image in the past few years, and then a mesmerizing shot of him applying himself with the famous don suit and the makeup on his face to match that of Vito Corleone. As he did all of this, the others just watched him in stunned silence and at a loss for words. As Bettye said later, she felt like Marlon melted into his role and practically became Vito Corleone. I was about as stunned about it as they were.
There’s another scene where, in the middle of The Godfather’s production, Francis Ford Coppola invited Albert, Bettye, his sister Talia Shire, and a majority of the film’s cast and crew to an Italian-themed dinner. Besides celebrating all the hard work they put into the movie, Francis also arranged this to hone the togetherness felt in the dinner scenes Francis would’ve shot for the film. The scene was nicely shot, and I admired how much of the dinner was a simple Italian-themed dinner that Francis planned out as if it was a large family gathering. It hit a chord with me because one of the main themes of The Godfather is family. And this scene highlighted the possibility of the cast and crew feeling more and more like a family with each hardship they endured in making the movie. But speaking of hardships, it also led to a quarrel between actor James Caan and Gianni Russo about quips about hitting women. This was important because it also showcased some noticeable discord within the community, despite the importance of family and commitment being shared by (almost) everyone involved.
It would have played a significant part in another scene where Talia walked back to the dressing room with an ice pack over her eye. She said Gianni’s in-character violence on her as Connie felt a little too real, but she didn't want herself to go off the rails with her performance because of it. Albert and especially Francis were so incensed by it that they both considered firing him. But then, Albert developed the bright idea of giving him a taste of his own medicine by shooting the beatdown James Caan would’ve delivered against Gianni by the New York fire hydrant the following day. It all felt arranged as if it was the cast and crew’s way of asking him, “how do you like it?” and their idea of punishment for his real-life abuse of Talia.
These scenes, to me, felt like what The Offer could’ve become if it decided to take more personal reigns with the story of the making of The Godfather.
So, what do I think could’ve helped the show become something better besides what I just laid out?
I understood that this show was created by Michael Tolkin, who wrote screenplays for film for most of his career but was new to television. But more fascinatingly, one of the executive producers of this show happened to be Albert Ruddy, who helped produce The Godfather in the first place, and The Offer primarily focused on the first Godfather film. Personally, I think The Offer could’ve reigned supreme as the personal, elegant, and still eye-opening look at the making of The Godfather if Francis Ford Coppola was involved in the making of the show. At the time of this writing, Francis Ford Coppola is still alive. Now, I understand that it made sense for Albert Ruddy to executive produce the show since he was the one who, for lack of a more appropriate term, pulled all the strings when he made The Godfather. Not to mention, the entire recount of the events shown in the show was relayed from his experiences in making The Godfather. But Francis Ford Coppola was the one who pulled all the strings visually. That, and after Part I, he was involved in all The Godfather films as their producer after Albert Ruddy left to helm his own movie projects. If Francis Ford Coppola had any creative involvement with The Offer, and not just Albert Ruddy, he would have spiced up the entire experience with the much-needed element of tenderness and familial elegance that enriched The Godfather.
But that’s just my take on how The Offer might have benefitted. Did you like it as it was, or would the show have been better if he was involved?
Come to think of it, even throwing in the slight yellow tint famous from The Godfather films onto The Offer? I think that would’ve made a substantial first step for the show if it wanted to hone The Godfather’s filmmaking styles for its own creative means.
And let’s not forget, the show inevitably took liberties with some real-life historical events surrounding the production of The Godfather. But there were some historical aspects I don’t recall being discussed in the show that would otherwise have lent the show some more substance. For example, according to “The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t,” Hollywood was in a rut in the mid-to-late 1960s because the chief entrepreneurs behind the most consistently successful movie studios had either retired or left. It was so bad that the fate of cinema, in general, was left uncertain because of it. It was all fascinating to think about, considering that two films from 1965, The Sound of Music and Doctor Zhivago, are currently ranked as some of the top ten highest-grossing films of all time when adjusted for inflation.
But that’s nothing compared to Paramount Pictures; in the 60s, it ranked among one of Hollywood’s least successful movie studios. It went from being an independent movie studio to becoming another one of Gulf+Western’s subsidiaries in 1967. How much did Charlie Bluhdorn pay for ownership of the studio? $600,000. That’s almost $5.5 million in today’s market. On top of that, Gulf+Western was a conglomerate company and didn’t express as much interest in moviemaking as Paramount did. This would have been ripe for juicy drama between Robert Evans and Charlie Bluhdorn and how their relationship correlated with the production of The Godfather. For all I know, though, maybe the show already had some of it scattered throughout, and I missed them in my first outing.
And while Mario Puzo was compelling in what he showcased in his narrative involvement in the show, there was so much more to convey about Francis Ford Coppola that would have made him an even more aspiring artist. He and such budding filmmakers as George Lucas founded American Zoetrope in San Francisco because they were fed up with all the rules Hollywood enforced on them and their filmmaking styles; they started the company so they could’ve made films their own way. That would’ve shed light on Coppola’s dedication to his filmmaking vision. But even then, Coppola joined The Godfather reluctantly because, for all his misgivings about Hollywood’s rules of filmmaking, he saw something in the movie that signified that there was more to the story than met the eye, like it was more than just some gangster movie. Around the same time, I knew that George Lucas was also getting started on his filmmaking techniques, particularly through such films as THX 1138 and American Graffiti. If the show had another two or three episodes, perhaps there would’ve been enough room to squeeze that in and concoct some delectable conflicts out of this arrangement, like between Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas or even between American Zoetrope and Hollywood. The possibilities to be gained from these arrangements feel like a gold mine full of storytelling possibilities that sadly never got unmined.
One thing the show did address was that Paramount Pictures didn’t reclaim its creative muscle until Love Story came out in theaters shortly before The Godfather did and became a smash hit at the box office. For those who don’t know the movie too much, let’s say that it’s the movie where the phrase “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” came from.
Nonetheless, The Offer still reigns as a fascinating look into the lives and intertwining chaos that ensued during the conceptualization and intimate victories of The Godfather. Its storytelling concerning The Godfather’s cast and crew was engaging and slightly delicate. The acting was terrific. The recreations of late-60s and early-70s elements generally felt on point. The set pieces were stunning to look at. And the characters, though not layered, still had enough interest and value in each of them to carry the show through.
The show did not emerge as a new don of television like I hoped it would have, that’s true. But saying it sleeps with the fishes would send the wrong message.
Near the end of the show, there was a scene where Albert Ruddy, Francis Ford Coppola, and later Robert Evans met with Barry Lapidus about the movie’s marketing and length. Lapidus responded by saying The Godfather should’ve been just promoted as a campier gangster flick. That, and Lapidus had one complaint about the movie that felt understandable but, in retrospect, also shortsighted. He complained about how The Godfather was too long at around three hours and suggested trimming it to be more appeasable to theater owners everywhere. I’m surprised he never questioned them about releasing The Godfather with an intermission or as a roadshow picture. Think about it: at the time, lengthy films like South Pacific and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World had some scenes trimmed down in regular theaters but had roadshow versions with intermissions and all the extra scenes added back in. And because The Godfather was already a lengthy movie at about three hours, it seemed like this was the ideal topic for him to bring up. However, this alone was interesting, as The Godfather: Part II, a three-and-a-half-hour movie, would later have been released with an intermission, but not the first film.
Early in the show, there was one scene where Robert Evans found a dead rat, plus a copy of The Godfather novel, in his hotel bed. However, it could be a blatant attempt to recreate the infamous horse head scene since there’s no record stating whether this happened. The rat was placed there by Joe Columbo as his warning to Robert about The Godfather being made into a movie, for at the time, he shared the IACRL’s heated response to Paramount translating what they perceived as an ethnic insult as a mainstream film.
“The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t.” The Godfather Supplements: 2001 Archival Supplements & All-New 2008 Supplements, Disc 4, 2008. The Godfather Blu-ray Collection: Omerta Edition, Paramount Home Entertainment, 2017.