"An Offer He Can't Refuse": Rare Look at Early 'Godfather' Drafts Reveal Famous Line's Origins
The Hollywood Reporter got a peek at Mario Puzo's literary archive, which includes the writer's handwritten notes as he worked on the movie's most memorable moments along with notes from the studio.
The Godfather trilogy has produced some of the most quoted lines in movie history.
Hollywood insiders picked four for The Hollywood Reporter's top movie quotes poll: "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in" (No. 79), "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer" (No. 41), "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli" (No. 31), and "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse" (No. 6). Plus, "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes" landed at No. 115.
Mario Puzo's literary archive — 45 bankers boxes of material, including the original 744-page draft of the the Godfather novel (working title: Mafia), nine partial and eight complete versions of the Godfather script, multiple drafts of the Godfather II and III scripts, letters between Puzo and director Francis Ford Coppola, and hundreds of pages of handwritten notes — sold at auction to a private collector for $625,000 in February 2016.
Before the sale, RR auctions and the Puzo estate gave THR a peek at some of the material about the making of the first Godfather.
Writing the Draft
Even before Puzo finished the novel, he had a deal for a film, netting $12,000 in 1967 based on the first 60 manuscript pages. When the book was published in March 1969, it was an instant hit and spent 67 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. In August 1970, he began work on the screenplay (writing the screenplay got him a better deal, including 2.5 percent of profits). By July he had sent a draft to the studio and heard back from executive Peter Bart:
"I'll make him an offer he can't refuse."
The line was in the book, and some variation of it appears in all three Godfather movies. Even in the original movie, Puzo played around with the line. "Make him an offer he can't refuse" was one iteration. Here's a page of Puzo's original handwritten draft with the line on it (at the bottom) and a draft typewritten script of the scene with Johnny Fontane asking for the Godfather's help where Puzo is experimenting with the pacing of the scene.
"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
In the original script (and book), the line was just "Leave the gun." When it came time to film the scene, Richard Castellano, who played Clemenza, improvised "take the cannoli" based on a suggestion from his onscreen and real-life wife, Ardell Sheridan, to riff on an earlier scene where she had asked him to pick up the dessert. Castellano did not appear in the sequel. He wanted Sheridan to write all his lines if he were going to reprise his role. Puzo and Coppola wanted him back, but not under those conditions.
"Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes."
When the Godfather's bodyguard is killed by the Tattaglias, they send back his bulletproof vest wrapped around a fish. Puzo experimented with several different characters saying the line — in the book it's Clemenza; in an early draft, (below) it's Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall); in the final version, it's Tessio (Abe Vigoda). In this draft, Puzo also played with the idea of literally showing Brasi sleeping with the fishes. (A wise move: The line is so much better in the viewer's imagination than seeing a shot of a corpse in the water).
Read more The 'Gone With the Wind' Line That Was Almost Censored | Why Hollywood Moguls Love This Line From 'The Godfather' | Top Funny Lines | Top Love Lines | 10 Lines That Almost Made the List | 4 Lines That Were Ad-Libbed | 'Jaws' Writer Reveals Origins of Movie's Famous "Bigger Boat" Line | 'Clueless' Director Amy Heckerling Reveals Where "As If!" Came From