Legendary Italian film director, producer and screenwriter Sergio Leone Sadly died on 30 April 1989, of a heart attack at the age of 60. He was born 3 January 1929 and started out In film After watching his father work on film sets, and began his own career in the film industry at the age of 18 after dropping out of law studies at the university.Working in Italian cinematography, he began as an assistant to Vittorio de Sica during the movie Bicycle Thieves in 1948. Leone began writing screenplays during the 1950s, primarily for the ‘sword and sandal’ (a.k.a. ‘peplum’) historical epics, popular at the time. He also worked as an assistant director on several large-scale international productions shot at the Cinecittà Studios in Rome, notably Quo Vadis (1951) and Ben-Hur (1959), financially backed by the American studios.When director Mario Bonnard fell ill during the production of the 1959 Italian epic The Last Days of Pompeii (Gli Ultimi Giorni di Pompei), starring Steve Reeves, Leone was asked to step in and complete the film. As a result, when the time came to make his solo directorial debut with The Colossus of Rhodes (Il Colosso di Rodi, 1961), Leone was well-equipped to produce low-budget films which looked like larger budget Hollywood movies ln the early 1960s, sadly historical epics fell out of favor with audiences.
So Leone shifted his attention to a sub-genre which came to be known as the “Spaghetti Western”, owing its origin to the American Western. His film A Fistful of Dollars (Per un Pugno di Dollari, 1964) was based upon Akira Kurosawa’s Edo-era samurai adventure Yojimbo (1961). Leone’s film elicited a legal challenge from the Japanese director, though Kurosawa’s film was in turn probably based on the 1929 Dashiell Hammett novel, Red Harvest. A Fistful of Dollars was also notable for establishing Clint Eastwood as a star. Until that time Eastwood had been an American television actor with few credited film roles.The look of A Fistful of Dollars was established by its Spanish locations, which presented a violent and morally complex vision of theAmerican Old West. The film paid tribute to traditional American western films, but significantly departed from them in storyline, plot, characterization and mood. As a child the American Old West fascinated him , which carried into his adulthood and his films.Leone’s next two films – For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) – completed what has come to be known as the Man with No Name trilogy (a.k.a. the Dollars Trilogy), with each film being more financially successful and more technically accomplished than its predecessor.
The films featured innovative music scores by Ennio Morricone, who worked closely with Leone in devising the themesSergio Leone’s next film Was Once upon a time in the west, Which was shot mostly in Almería, Spain Cinecittà in Rome & Monument Valley, Utah & starred Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards and Claudia Cardinale. Once Upon a Time in the West emerged as a long, violent, dreamlike meditation upon the mythology of the American Old West, with many stylistic references to iconic western films. The film’s script was written by Leone and his longtime friend and collaborator Sergio Donati, from a story by Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento, it was a huge hit in Europe, grossing nearly three times its $5 million budget among French audiences, and highly praised amongst North American film students. It has come to be regarded by many as Leone’s best film.
Leone’s next film Once upon a time in the West was shot mostly in Almería, Spain Cinecittà in Rome & Monument Valley, Utah & starred Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards and Claudia Cardinale. Once Upon a Time in the West emerged as a long, violent, dreamlike meditation upon the mythology of the American Old West, with many stylistic references to iconic western films. The film’s script was written by Leone and his longtime friend and collaborator Sergio Donati, from a story by Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento, it was a huge hit in Europe, grossing nearly three times its $5 million budget among French audiences, and highly praised amongst North American film students. It has come to be regarded by many as Leone’s best film.
After Once Upon a Time in the West, Leone directed Duck, You Sucker! (Giù la Testa, 1971). Leone was intending merely to produce the film, but due to artistic differences with then-director Peter Bogdanovich, Leone was asked to direct the film instead. Duck, You Sucker! is a Mexican Revolution action drama, starring James Coburn, as an Irish revolutionary and Rod Steiger, as a Mexican bandit who is conned into becoming a revolutionary.Leone continued to produce, and on occasion, step in to reshoot scenes in other films. One of these films was My Name is Nobody(1973) by Tonino Valerii ] a comedy western film that poked fun at the spaghetti western genre. It starred Henry Fonda as an old gunslinger facing a final confrontation after the death of his brother. Terence Hill also starred in the film as the young stranger who helps Fonda leave the dying West with style.Leone’s other productions included A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe (1975, another western comedy starring Terence Hill); The Cat (Il Gatto; 1977, starring Ugo Tognazzi), and A Dangerous Toy (Il Giocattolo; 1979, starring Nino Manfredi). Leone also produced three comedies by actor/director Carlo Verdone, which were Fun Is Beautiful (Un Sacco Bello, 1980), Bianco, Rosso e Verdone(White, Red and Verdone – Verdone means “strong green” – a pun referring to the three colours of the Italian flag, the star and to director Verdone, 1981) and Troppo Forte (Great!, 1986). During this period, Leone also directed various award-winning TV commercials for European television.In 1978, he was a member of the jury at the 28th Berlin International Film Festival.
Leone turned down the opportunity to direct The Godfather, in favor of working on another gangster story he had conceived earlier. He devoted ten years to this project, based on the novel The Hoods by former mobster Harry Grey, which focused on a quartet of New York City Jewish gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s who had been friends since childhood. The four-hour finished film, Once Upon a Time in America (1984), featured Robert De Niro and James Woods. It was a meditation on another aspect of popular American mythology, the role of greed and violence and their uneasy coexistence with the meaning of ethnicity and friendship. Unfortunately Warner Bros. Edited it drastically for the American market, abandoning its flashback structure for a linear narrative. Lasting over just two hours, the recut version received much criticism and flopped. However The original version, was released in the rest of the world, and achieved major critical acclaim, with some critics hailing the film as a masterpiece.
Before his death he was part way through planning a film on the Siege of Leningrad, set in the Eastern Front during World War II. He was survived by his wife and three children.In his later years, Leone had a falling out of sorts with actor Clint Eastwood. When Leone directed Once Upon a Time in America, he commented that Robert De Niro was a real actor, unlike Eastwood. However, the two made amends and reconciled before Leone’s death. In 1992, Eastwood directed Unforgiven, a revisionist western drama for which he won an Oscar for best director, as well as Best Picture. Leone was one of the two directors whom Eastwood dedicated his award to, the other was Don Siegel who directed Eastwood in a string of movies in the 1970s, including Dirty Harry. (The film contains a dedication “To Sergio & Don” before the end credits roll.)