Sergio Leone

Sergio Leone

Infobox actor
bgcolour = silver
name = Sergio Leone

imagesize = 250px
caption =
birthdate = birth date|1929|1|3|mf=y
location = Rome, Italy
deathdate = death date and age|1989|4|30|1929|1|3|mf=y
deathplace = Rome, Italy
birthname =
yearsactive = 1959 - 1984
othername =
spouse = Carla Leone
homepage =
academyawards = |

Sergio Leone (January 3, 1929 – April 30, 1989) was an Italian film director.

Leone is well-known for his spaghetti western films and his style of juxtaposing extreme close-up shots with lengthy long shots and original music soundtracks. His most well-known movies include "The Man with No Name" trilogy (a.k.a. the "Dollars Trilogy") (which consists of "A Fistful of Dollars", "For a Few Dollars More" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"), "Once Upon a Time in the West" and "Once Upon a Time in America".


Born in Rome, Leone was the son of the cinema pioneer, Vincenzo Leone (known as director Roberto Roberti), and the actress, Edvige Valcarenghi (Bice Waleran). He started working in the film industry at the age of 18.

Leone began writing screenplays in the 1950s, primarily for the so-called "sword and sandal" (a.k.a. "peplum") historical epics, which were popular at the time. He also worked as an assistant director on several large-scale and high-profile runaway productions filmed at Cinecittà Studios in Rome, notably "Quo Vadis" (1951) and "Ben-Hur" (1959).

When director Mario Bonnard fell ill during the production of the 1959 Italian epic, "Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei" ("The Last Days of Pompeii"), 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 and felt like Hollywood spectaculars.


In the early 1960s, demand for historical epics collapsed, and Leone was fortunate enough to be at the forefront of the genre that replaced it in the public's affections: the Western. His film "A Fistful of Dollars" ("Per un Pugno di Dollari", 1964) was an early trend-setter in a genre that came to be known as the "spaghetti western". Based upon Akira Kurosawa's Edo-era samurai adventure "Yojimbo" (1961), Leone's film elicited a legal challenge from the Japanese director. "A Fistful of Dollars" is also notable for its establishment of Clint Eastwood as a star, who until that time had been an American television actor with few roles to his name.

The look of "A Fistful of Dollars" was established partly by its budget and Spanish locations, which presented a gritty, violent and morally complex vision of the American Old West. The film paid tribute to traditional American western movies, but significantly departed from them in storyline, plot, characterization and mood. Leone deservedly gets credit for one, great breakthrough in the western genre that is still followed today: in traditional western films, heroes and villains alike looked as if they had just stepped out of a fashion magazine, and the moral opposites were clearly drawn, even down to the hero wearing a white hat and the villain wearing a black hat. Leone's characters were, in contrast, more "realistic" and complex: usually "lone wolves" in their behaviour; they rarely shaved, looked dirty and there was a strong suggestion of body odour and a history of criminal behaviour. The characters were also morally ambiguous by appearing generously compassionate, or nakedly and brutally self-serving, as the situation demanded. This sense of realism continues to affect western movies today, and has also been influential outside of the western genre. Many critics have called it ironic that an Italian director who could not speak English, and had never even seen the American Old West, almost single-handedly redefined the typical vision of the American cowboy. According to Christopher Frayling's book "Something to do with Death", Leone knew a great deal about the American Old West. It fascinated him as a child, 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 "The Man with No Name trilogy" (a.k.a. the "Dollars Trilogy"), with each film being more financially successful and more technically proficient than its predecessor. All three films featured innovative music scores by the prolific composer Ennio Morricone who worked closely with Leone in coming up with the themes. After they met to plan the soundtrack, they realized that both of them had gone to school together and were classmates at one time. Leone had a personal way of shooting scenes with Morricone's music ongoing. Critics have often said that "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" was the finest of the trilogy.Fact|date=February 2008

Based on the success of "The Man with No Name" trilogy, Leone was invited to the United States in 1967 to direct what he hoped would be his masterwork, "Once Upon a Time in the West" ("C'Era una Volta il West") for Paramount Pictures. The film was shot mostly in Almería, Spain and Cinecitta in Rome. It was also briefly shot in Monument Valley, Utah. The film 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. The film was scripted by Leone's longtime friend and collaborator Sergio Donati. The story was written by Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento, both of whom went on to have significant careers as directors. Before its release, however, "Once Upon a Time in the West" was ruthlessly edited by Paramount, which perhaps contributed to its poor box-office results in the United States. Nevertheless, it was a huge hit in Europe 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 "A Fistful of Dynamite", a.k.a. "Duck, You Sucker" ("Giù la Testa", 1971). Leone was originally just going to produce the film, but due to artistic differences from then-director Peter Bogdanovich, Leone was asked to direct the film instead. "A Fistful of Dynamite" 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 (though true participation of Leone in shooting is disputedFact|date=January 2007), a comedy western film that poked fun at the spaghetti western genre. It starred Frank Leone as an old gunslinger who watched "his" old West fade away before his very eyes as he played his guitar. 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 Alberto Sordi and "The 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.


Leone turned down the opportunity to direct "The Godfather", in favor of working on another gangster story he had conceived before the offer of "The Godfather". Leone devoted ten years on this project, based on the novel "The Hoods" by 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 finished film, "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984), starred 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. The studio cut its four-hour running time drastically for the American market, losing much of the sense of the complex narrative. The recut version flopped and received much criticism.

The original version, projected in the rest of the world, received great appreciation by the public and by critics.

When the integral version of the film was released on DVD in the USA, it gained major critical acclaim, with many critics hailing the film as a masterpiece.

Death and later years

Leone died on April 30, 1989 of a heart attack. He was 60 years old. Leone was infamous for his compulsive eating, which led him to become obese.

Before his death in 1989, Leone was part way through planning yet another epic - this time on the Siege of Leningrad during World War II. The project was titled Leningrad Leone's Leningrad

In his later years, Leone had a falling out of sorts with Clint Eastwood, his most famous actor. 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 before Leone's death. In 1992, Eastwood directed "Unforgiven", a revisionist western for which he won an Oscar for best director. Leone was one of the two directors whom Eastwood dedicated it to, the other one was Don Siegel.

In 2004, Leone's son, Andrea, published a long treatment for a film entitled "A Place Only Mary Knows", written by Sergio Leone, Luca Morsella and Fabio Toncelli. It is a story about two soldiers during the U.S. Civil War.

Critical opinion of Leone's film contributions was initially mixed, partly because the spaghetti western was initially considered a low-prestige genre. However, today Leone is widely acclaimed as a master filmmaker, receiving a 94% average filmography rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Among the many filmmakers who have claimed reference or inspiration by Leone's films include: Sam Peckinpah, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, John Milius, George Lucas, John Carpenter, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Gore Verbinski and Stanley Kubrick (for his film "Barry Lyndon"). The cultural impact of Leone's films, particularly his early westerns, is also immense. The showdown sequences, the anti-hero, and Morricone's musical scores have become icons of cinema and pop culture.

Recurring actors


*When it was announced that Willem Dafoe would play Jesus Christ in Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ", Leone reportedly exclaimed "This is the face of a murderer, not our Lord!"

*On the set of "A Fistful of Dollars", Clint Eastwood nicknamed Leone, "Yosemite Sam," because of his often belligerent temper.

*Leone's five westerns are famous for their post-production dubbing. One movie critic has said of them: "The guns sound like cannons, and the cannons sound like nuclear explosions."

*After viewing the notorious Italian cannibal film, "Cannibal Holocaust", Leone sent a letter to the film's director, Ruggero Deodato, which stated: "Dear Ruggero: What a movie! The second part is a masterpiece of cinematographic realism, but everything seems so real that I think you will get in trouble with all the world." Deodato was subsequently arrested, due to authorities believing that "Cannibal Holocaust" was a real snuff film.

*After completing the "Dollars" trilogy, Leone wanted to make "Once Upon a Time in America" in 1968. However, fans wanted another western, so he made "Once Upon a Time in the West", not managing to do the gangster film for almost 20 years.

*A Jackson Browne song from his 2002 album, The Naked Ride Home, is entitled "Sergio Leone", and stands as a tribute to him.

*Considered as some of his favorite films: "Monsieur Verdoux", by Charlie Chaplin; "The General", by Buster Keaton; "Gone With the Wind", by Victor Fleming (a film he claimed it was his ambition to remake); "The Seven Samurai" and "Yojimbo" by Akira Kurosawa; "Warlock", by Edward Dmytryk; "Shane", by George Stevens; "Rio Bravo", by Howard Hawks; "The Tall T" and "Buchanon Rides Alone" by Budd Boetticher; and "Stagecoach", "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", and "My Darling Clementine" by John Ford Fact|date=June 2008. He was watching Robert Wise's "I Want to Live!" on his television when he died in 1989.


*"The Last Days of Pompeii" ("Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei", 1959) (Mario Bonnard is the credited director; Leone served as assistant director and reportedly took over completion of the film when Bonnard became severely ill during production)
*"Il Colosso di Rodi" (1961)
*"A Fistful of Dollars" ("Per un Pugno di Dollari", 1964)
*"For a Few Dollars More" ("Per Qualche Dollaro in Più", 1965)
*"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" ("Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo", 1966)
*"Once Upon a Time in the West" ("C'Era una Volta il West", 1968)
*"A Fistful of Dynamite" ("Giù la Testa", 1971)
*"My Name Is Nobody" ("Il mio nome è Nessuno", 1973) (producer, uncredited co-director)
*"A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe" ("Un genio, due compari, un pollo", 1975) (uncredited producer and co-director)
*"Once Upon a Time in America" ("C'Era una Volta in America", 1984)


* [ Photo]

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