Wednesday, November 17, 2010


On November 10 I watched the BBC announcement of the death of Dino De Laurentiis, which reported that the great Italian film producer's credits included Flash Gordon and Dune. NBC's report wasn't much better: they mentioned some of his Hollywood productions, like Three Days of the Condor. The writers of the reports, bless them, likely consulted the IMDB website and scanned the De Laurentiis' list of credits and singled out the titles that they recognized.

If they had taken the time to go a little further down the list, they might have noticed titles like Bitter Rice (1948), La Strada (1954), Nights of Cabiria (1958), and The Stranger (1967) - films that De Laurentiis produced at the start of his career in Italy, the films that were financial risks that paid off for him and for his co-producer Carlo Ponti. These films made De Laurentiis world famous because they were brilliant and challenging works of art. He realized that one of the few ways that a producer of Italian films can make a name for himself abroad was by backing films that could potentially get critical attention and win awards at international film festivals.

He studied to be a cinematographer in the '30s, and produced his first films before the war. Like Ponti, who married Sophia Loren, Di Laurentiis married another great Italian bombshell, Silvana Mangano in 1949. Their marriage lasted nearly forty years and he had four children with her, including Raffaella, who also became a successful film producer.

Di Laurentiis left Italy in the '70s to produce exclusively in America. Always taking risks, one of his first efforts was Sidney Lumet's superb Serpico (1973). Death Wish (1974) made him a boodle, as it should have. Orson Welles once famously remarked that any film director who didn't talk about money was an idiot. As a businessman, De Laurentiis knew the prime directive: what sells is good. But he also knew that what is good sometimes sells.

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