As a teenager, Agostino “Dino” De Laurentiis enrolled in Rome’s Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, gaining experience behind the camera as a grip and an assistant director, and in front of it as an extra and in bit parts. By the age of twenty he had produced his first film, but the coming of WWII put his career on hold. When it resumed, De Laurentiis became an international name as the main producer behind the celebrated Italian neorealist movement, with both La Strada and Nights Of Cabiria winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. However, it was, perhaps, the 1956 version of War And Peace that most pointed the way forward, with its American cast and director drafted into a European film, in a production that was in all conceivable ways BIG.
At the beginning of the 1960s, De Laurentiis built his own production facilities outside Rome, from whence issued everything from biblical epics to pop-art spectacles, and from spaghetti westerns to Shakespeare. In the early 1970s, he relocated to the US, and initiated that phase of his career for which he is, perhaps unfairly, best-known—and most notorious—with a series of productions whose ambitions were matched only by their wrongheadedness. Meanwhile, the “DEG” logo of his production company, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, began (like its contemporary, Cannon) to convey a certain message to genre fans, appearing on Amityville sequels, Halloween sequels and Stephen King adaptations seemingly without number; while the producer balanced out his Academy Awards when Body Of Evidence took home the Razzie for Worst Picture in 1993.
But it is hard to argue with 2000’s choice of Dino De Laurentiis as the recipient of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award—if only for the sheer scale of his contribution to the motion picture industry: at the time of his death in 2010, he had been involved in over 600 films.
So join us as we consider just a few of them.
|1000 Misspent Hours and Counting||Danger: Diabolik||And the thing is, Diabolik is easily the nicest of 1960’s Italy’s comic book supercriminals! Kriminal is much worse than Diabolik; Satanik is much worse than Kriminal; and Killing— my God, Killing might even be worse than Fantomas! Yet in every case, it’s the villain— the robber, the murderer, the terrorist— that captured the public’s adoration, rather than the indefatigable police inspector futilely pursuing him (or her, in Satanik’s case) through installment after installment.|
|1000 Misspent Hours and Counting||Dune||Particularly after Star Wars proved just how big an audience a well-made sci-fi movie could attract, the pre-existing Dune fan cult made Herbert’s novel a tempting target for adaptation. It was just a question of how to make a coherent film of reasonable length out of a story that roams for years across three worlds, following dozens of characters though a labyrinthine plot in which millennia worth of cultural, political, and religious history are implicated. Okay, when I put it like that, it does sound like an awfully tall order, especially since one attempt to do so had already succumbed to unconstrained gigantism. There are some producers, though, for whom unconstrained gigantism is a way of life, and when word got out that Dune the movie was going to happen after all, nobody should have been surprised to see Dino De Laurentiis (together with his daughter, Raffaela) in back of it.|
|1000 Misspent Hours and Counting||Hannibal||I get why De Laurentiis didn’t just bring back Ron Vawter, who played Krendler during his brief appearance in The Silence of the Lambs. Krendler in that movie was just a guy in a dark suit doing his job, but here he’s a major villain— the kind you want a name actor to play. But Liotta is so smarmy in Hannibal that it’s impossible to take Krendler seriously. He’s like the caricature of a sexist pig that would exist within the mind of a caricature of a feminist. I think I might actually have believed in Liotta more as In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale’s North Jersey mafioso wizard.|
|1000 Misspent Hours and Counting||Mandingo||As you might infer from that, Hammond is what passes for a compassionate master in these parts. Some of the Falconhurst slaves, like old Lucrezia Borgia the housekeeper (Lillian Hayman) and his pet, Aphrodite (Debbi Morgan, from The Monkey Hustle), he downright likes. And when it falls to him to give newly matured girls like Big Pearl (Reda Wyatt) their first laying, he’s always as gentle and considerate about it as he knows how. He knows some slave women get attached to their babies almost like they were real people, and he generally tries to stop his dad from selling the kids ‘til they’re grown when that happens. Why, Hammond’s even careful to give the slave whose job it is to administer Agamemnon’s punishment direction on how to do it without risk of permanent injury. A veritable prince among peckerwoods, this guy.|
|1000 Misspent Hours and Counting||The White Buffalo||When you consider how Jaws obsessed Dino De Laurentiis throughout the mid-1970’s, it’s awfully fitting that the monster in that movie was a white shark. First in King Kong, then in Orca, and finally in The White Buffalo, Dino chased that fish round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round Perdition’s flames before he gave him up.|
|And You Call Yourself A Scientist!||Hurricane (1979)||The idea that, if a film is “big” enough, the script isn’t all that important is embarrassingly evident all throughout Hurricane, which serves up a story that would have been creaky even at the time of the film’s setting, the 1920s, and then peppers it with tacky “modern” touches that leave the viewer caught between laughing and squirming. Lorenzo Semple Jr was another hangover from King King (where the script is also, shall we say, problematic), and his screenplay boasts an almost bewildering array of wrongheaded choices—the overriding one being the decision to turn the original novel’s (and original film’s) culture-clash tragedy into a ridiculous “forbidden love” romance: one enacted against admittedly spectacular backdrops, but doomed from the outset due to a deadly combination of inappropriate casting and hilariously unsubtle characterisations. The result is an overblown melodrama that ended up being hurriedly withdrawn and shortened by nearly a quarter of an hour after its initial release was greeted with hostility and mockery. It didn’t help: literally, whichever way you cut it, Hurricane is not only a very silly film, but one that commits the one unforgiveable disaster move sin: it’s boring.|
|And You Call Yourself A Scientist!||Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982)||Whatever Nigel Kneale originally intended, there is no question that Season Of The Witch as it stands is one deeply peculiar film. Quite frankly, it’s a mess; yet the results are often strangely compelling, with so much general WTF-ery on display that there’s barely a moment when you aren’t gawping at something in bemusement and/or disbelief.|
|Braineater||King Kong (1976)||Also, since the new film was set in the present day, it made no sense to bring back Carl Denham: who in their right minds would believe that, as late as the mid-1970’s, an egomaniac film-maker would drag some blonde all the way from New York out to an inhospitable island in the Pacific, just to shoot a poorly-planned adventure film… and then come back with a monster?
(Oh — wait. Never mind. Sorry, Dino.)
|Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension|
|The Unknown Movies||A Man Called Sledge (1970)||I’ve reviewed in the past two good Dino movies, Chino and The Deserter. Both were westerns, and Dino’s apparent good luck with westerns made me decide to take a look at another of his, A Man Called Sledge. While Dino brought in enough pasta to make it a spaghetti western, the movie actually had some American involvement, from the director to its cast, the main headlining star being James Garner (Duel At Diablo). Garner plays the title character, Luther Sledge, a ruthless outlaw in the Wild West.|