The Good, The Bad and Luciano Vincenzoni

His days with Sergio Leone and the World of Cinema

An exclusive and authorised interview by Cenk KIRAL (Released in September 1998)

As Robert Cumbow calls (in his book called "Once Upon A Time The Films of Sergio Leone" - The Scaresrow Press, Inc - 1987), "a script doctor"- the man, very well known in Italian and world cinema as story and screenplay writer for some of the most talented film directors. His mainstream international popularity came from his collaboration with famous Italian film director Sergio Leone. Vincenzoni has worked with Leone in three of his westerns. Their first film together was "For A Few Dollars More" (FDM) in 1965. He was the screenplay writer of the story, developed by Leone himself. After the huge success of FDM comes their big box office hit, unforgettable Italian (or, as some prefer to call, "Spaghetti") Western classic "The Good The Bad and The Ugly" (GBU) in 1966. He was also involved with the business side of these films. His strong relations with popular and important people helped him to sell FDM to the European vice-president of United Artists. During the bargaining session, in front of Leone, he made on the spot deal for the upcoming GBU, which was then just a vaig idea in his mind. Vincenzoni had started to develop the story all the way back from his earlier film, called "La Grande Guerra" (1959), about three men in the American Civil War. Even the everfamous "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" title was his idea, which he created right on the spot. That genius bargaining success made all the members of the Leone Core Team, including Vincenzoni, instant millionaire. He always had a key role in Leone collaboration, as a middle man, a kind of presentation interface of Leone to the outside world. In the stress of handling all these complicated business affairs, he had to argue with Leone many times. In his opinions, after the huge monetary success of Dollars films, Leone never felt comfortable seeing Vincenzoni sharing the profit with him. So, then came a a rift between two friends for some years.

Later on, they came together again in Leone's only political western, called "Duck You Sucker" (DYS) in 1971 (a.k.a."Gui La testa"). A film much different from the earlier films in many ways. The film was to be produced by Leone, and directed by Peter Bogdanovich. The story sessions went pretty interesting. Vincenzoni was the only witness to all those sessions between Leone and Bogdanovich. The book by Oreste DeFornari, called "The Great Italian Dream of Legendary America" (Gremese Int.- 1997), there's section on Bogdanovich about his memories from those days. Bogdanovich said the following about Vincenzoni: "...Luciano Vincenzoni, the writer of Leone's two best films, had been hired to work on this one too, and he and I got on famously right from the start, though his job was not the very appetizing one of being translator, mediator, arbiter, and scenarist all at once. Luciano, by the way, is everyone's ideal Italian - one could be exported as a tourist attraction- charming, gracious, enthusiastic, good-looking, and funny. For some reason best known to himself, he really wanted me to direct this picture - a lot more than I did - and much of our time alone together was spent in his trying to get me to be more politic with Sergio..." The film ended up being directed by Leone himself. After that experience, the two men (Leone and Vincenzoni) never came together again. They just remained as two friends, but never as collaborators again. Vincenzoni didn't leave the Spaghetti Western world after Leone. His screenwriting efforts appeared in couple of other major productions. Among these films there is one, called as "Death Rides A Horse" where he even supervised the director Petroni upon UA's directions. The film is classified as one of the best non-Leone spaghetti westerns with a consistent story flow, superb soundtrack and good use of time element, much like in Leone's sense of ryhtm. Vincenzoni did his best to apply Leone recipe for that film, and assigned many of Leone's crew members.

During his long career, following are some of the films he worked: "Amore e guai" (1958) by Angelo Dorigo, "Gli Italiani sono matti" (1958) by Duilio Coletti & Luis María Delgado, "La Grande Guerra" (1959) by Mario Monicelli, "Il Gobbo" (1960) (a.k.a. The Hunchback of Rome) by Carlo Lizzani, "The Best of Enemies" (1961) by Guy Hamilton, "Sedotta e abbandonata" (1964) (a.k.a. A Matter of Honor) by Pietro Germi, "Signore & Signori" (1965) (a.k.a. The Birds, the Bees and the Italians) by Pietro Germi, "L'Avventuriero" (1967) (a.k.a. The Rover) by Terence Young, "Da uomo a uomo" (1968) (a.k.a. Death Rides a Horse) by Guilio Petroni, "Il Mercenario" (a.k.a. A Professional Gun, The Mercenary) by Sergio Corbucci , "Gli Eroi" (1972) (a.k.a. The Heroes) by Duccio Tessari, "Uomini duri" (1974) (a.k.a. Tough Guys) by Duccio Tessari, "Il Cipollaro" (1975) by Enzo G. Castellari, "Orca" (1977) by Michael Anderson, "I Paladini - Storia d'armi e d'amori" (1983) (a.k.a. Hearts and Armour) by Giacomo Battiato.

Our interview took place in three sessions on different days. He said all he felt about his experience with Leone in quite frank words. Sometimes the degree of his emotional reactions to my questions changed from one session to another-sometimes quite calm and discreet, and sometimes reaching to their peaks. That is why, instead of arranging the notes by their relative topics, I decided to leave the notes in the chronological order. The most interesting thing for me to hear was that Vincenzoni, after all the great international reputation and success, never liked those films he wrote for Leone. He stressed several times that he is ashamed of himself for making such films, and can delete his name on them, if only he had the power and capability. He said all these interesting things mostly in a typical Mediterranean temperament. This is especially very apparent in the last and the longest session, where he was much different from the earlier sessions. In that last session, for whatever the reason was, he probably lived the tension of those moments again when he was speaking with me. It took me couple of days to get over the shock of what he said about those films, Leone and others. But, I must respect to the fact that he was one of the closest witnesses of those days, and probably bravest of all for revealing some of the facts for whatever it takes.

Although I did not personally agree with some of his comments, I sincerely liked his openness, his bold way of expressing whatever he thinks. That is why, I thought this was going to be a very different type of interview on Leone than any others so far done. After our third interview, I took me a long and tedious process to transcribe Vincenzoni's unique way of speaking style onto paper. I spent countless nights in order to make sure that I carry exactly his words from tapes onto paper. Finally, it was ready. I read it, and still felt like asking him once more. So I called him again as a fourth time, just to be sure that he meant what he said. When I called him, he didn't sound like he was in a mood to talk much-unlike his eagerness in previous sessions. I asked him directly if he feels comfortable with my interviews. There was a moment of silence, and followed by some indifferent manner of speaking. I guess I caught him in a wrong time while he was very much relaxed with a couple of late night drinks. I understood that I can not make any progress, I apologised for disturbing, and hung up. I felt like I had to get his final consent one way or the other. At least, as a matter of courtesy. So, I made a nice, clean copy of the interview notes, and mailed him with a self addressed envelope. Then came a long period of waiting. May be he was out travelling, may be he didn't even bother to read, may be he was too busy. Then, on September 2nd, 1998, when I came back home, I found four messages in my answering machine. It was him, sounded quite desperate, and kind of angry, wanting me to call him back. I felt that the bullet hit the soft button. I decided to call him back after the dinner. Right before I was preparing to call him, the phone rang and it was him. I knew for sure that he wasn't going to celebrate me. He started off very angrily, first attacking on the point that I did not inform him for taping the conversations. He said "it is a crime to do that". I told him that I don't recall whether or not I reminded this specifically, but, how on earth one can keep all those details from hours of conversations in his mind without any aid from a simplest tool used in all the interviews? I asked him if he denies the words written on my notes. Then he calmed down a bit, and said that he doesn't deny, but he said all those words thinking that we were just chatting on a friendly basis. He definitely want to change some parts. I said "ok, let's get down on them". First he criticised to the header of the interview, saying that "it is a second rate humour, implying something about me?". I said "no, just my way of presenting this interview, since your most superb effort came about with that film, that's all, no hidden message or anything". That was my choice, and I kept it like that. Then we passed to the parts he wants to "trim". He wanted correct few wordings in some parts, but the real trimming had been on his words about Volonte, his views on communists, how he made the deal with United Artists on behalf of Leone and Grimaldi, the details of an argument between Leone and Steiger during the making of "Duck You Sucker". He wanted to delete some of his harsh words, and curses on Leone. The meanings were pretty much kept intact, but he some of his direct words had to be deleted. When we first talked, I asked the question about ownership of the OUTIW script, and he made a bold statement about Bertolucci and Argento. Now, he wanted to change it in order not to hurt his "friends". Then he wanted to soften his words on his embarrassment from his involvement with the westerns. Feeling my cooperation, he calmed down, and became like the usual Vincenzoni I was accustomed to hear previously - lively, and joyful, making jokes with dominating manner of speaking. He promised to send me some pictures of him with Lee Van Cleef. . "Tidy sum, and some in photo" I thought with a dream of getting some rarely seen material. I jumped on that, and tried to turn it into a definite promise. "I'll do my best" he replied. "Anytime you need any information, or if you are around Rome, call me" he said in a sincere manner. "Who knows, may be some other time" I replied, and hang up. The piece was restored again. Few days later, I found an envelope, which I sent him with my initial letter. It contained my notes with his corrections, and a black and white picture taken at Disneyland in 1969. In the pale sight of the photo, there was him, Mrs.Vincenzoni, Mr. & Mrs. Leone enjoying their visit. Those days were surely gone, but Vincenzoni is still there.

So, here is Luciano Vincenzoni, with his own "authorised" words:

First Interview: April 25, 1998

C.KIRAL: You have worked with Leone in "For A Few Dollars More" (FDM), "The Good The Bad and The Ugly" (GBU) and "Duck You Sucker" (DYS). Let's begin with FDM and GBU. How was the story and screenplay writing process working in those films? Who was bringing the ideas, and who was developing?

L.VINCENZONI: Well, the original story of GBU is mine. So, Leone signed with me. We developed the screenplay with Sergio Leone, myself, and Age&Scarpelli. We used to chat, and after that I wrote, he read, and sometimes he asked me some changes. So, the progress was a normal one.

CK: Who came up with the title name GBU?

LV: It is my invention.

CK: Was Lee Van Cleef the first choice of Leone in that film (GBU)? or was he thinking about somebody else?

LV: No, Lee Van Cleef was already done FDM, and he made GBU

CK: I was told that Leone also offered this part to Charles Bronson. Isn't this correct?

LV: No, it was a little problem with Clint Eastwood. Sergio Leone offered the role first to Clint Eastwood, but Eastwood didn't like the screenplay. When he (Eastwood) read the screenplay (of GBU), his first reaction was negative. When Sergio Leone told me this, I was very upset, and said "how come Clint didn't accept the role". He said "Don't worry, I have Charles Bronson in my mind, and I don't want to have Clint Eastwood again." After two days Clint Eastwood called and accepted the role. That I remember clearly. Sergio had his mind an actor like Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen (instead of C.Eastwood). He started with Clint Eastwood, because he had a little money, and Clint at that time was a little TV actor, and didn't cost so much. And, after that he kept going.

CK: How did Leone and Eastwood get along during those days?

LV: Very well. They always respected each other.

CK: Were you with Leone when he was in the US in those days?

LV: Yes, I was with him all the time, scouting costumes, and everything.

CK: Do you know the story of how he found Lee Van Cleef?

LV: Yes, it was a rainy day in LA, that is very rare. In his mind he wanted to have for the role Bob Ryan, but Ryan refused to play the role of Colonel. So, Sergio Leone was practically desperate. It was a Wednesday, and the movie was to start in Rome on the next Monday.

CK: Were you with him in LA at that particular day?

LV: Yes, but not at that moment. So, he went for a coffee in a bar, and sitting there with Ottavio Oppo, because he spoke English. The door was opened, and came in a tall man with a black rain coat, a black hat, totally drunk. He went to the bartender, and asked for a bourbon. Sergio Leone saw his profile, and recognized Lee Van Cleef. So, he remembered seeing him in "High Noon", and many American movies. And, he tried to talk with him. Lee Van Cleef was drunk, and got angry with him. In the last five years he never worked, because he was alcoholic. He thought Leone was teasing him. And he grabbed Leone by his jacket, and the bartender stopped him, and said, "hey listen, I know him, he's an Italian film director. Come on. May be there's a job for you." So, they called his agent from the bar, and the agent came to the bar. And, they signed the deal straight up for 9 weeks of work for the salary of $1,000 per week, that was nothing naturally. And, the day after they travelled together to Rome. And, there started the career of Lee Van Cleef. Very soon he made 30 movies for the salary of a quarter of a million dollar per film. He made his career just because Bob Ryan refused to play the part. It was pure a coincidence. Actually, even if Bob Ryan was a great actor, it was impossible for him to play the colonel role better than Lee Van Cleef. He was perfect for the part. Sergio Leone was very lucky with the choice of actors. He found Clint Eastwood, and later Lee Van Cleef.

CK: How was Lee Van Cleef as a person?

LV: He was a great human being. Nice friend. We were very close to each other. He liked to drink, and he drank little too much. So did I. I remember seeing him for the last time in Hollywood, because I wrote the sequel of GBU. I wanted to put together the movie. I went to visit him at his beautiful villa in San Fernando Valley. He was a rich man. What was amazing that in the living room there was an enourmous bar, like a regular bar with six benches and full of bottles. And there he was like a god.

CK: So, he continued drinking...

LV: Oh yes. He died for that. When we first found him in the US, he was totally alcoholic. After he had come to Rome and started making money, he seemed like he was out of it, but it wasn't true. Sergio Leone gave him his last 24 years of happiness. And that's a long time.

CK: Did his drinking ever created any problems during the filming days?

LV: Absolutely no !! The only problem was it was impossible for him to run because he had an accident many many years ago. He broke both of his legs. Walking was ok, but he wasn't able to run.

CK: He was also very much into painting, as I heard. Is that correct?

LV: Yes, he liked to paint. He kept painting all the time. Even when they were filming, he used to paint in between the takes at his room. He gave me few of his paintings. I knew Lee Van Cleef very well. We were very close. He was a wild animal. I mean he was a heavy drinker. He wasn't a great actor, but he had a great face. In Hollywood nobody would hire him, but in Italy he easily made around 10 million dollars in six years. In the first film (FDM) he made 9,000 dollars. He was broke at that time. When he came back to the US, for the first time he bought himself a beautiful mansion in San Fernando Valley. He always wore gold ring, gold watch, chains. He had a lot money. He killed himself drinking and drinking. He wasn't so old when he died. He was ready to make GBU part 2. That was the last time I saw him when I went to visit him in his house with Eli Wallach. These two old men were so excited to be together again, but Sergio Leone made it impossible to make the movie.

CK: Is it right that during the filming of FDM, Eastwood and Van Cleef had a sort of bet on who was faster in drawing the gun, and that they counted actual film frames for that?

LV: No, I don't think so because I have never seen in my life a man so fast like Clint. I wrote many westerns after Leone. I wrote six, seven of them. I saw may actors like John Philip Law, Rod Cameron and others. I never saw any actor so fast like Clint.

CK: How did Van Cleef get along with Leone?

LV: Van Cleef was an angel. He went along with everybody, even with King Kong. He was so sweet. He liked to receive orders. Sergio told him (he imitates a very serious tone in his voice) "now, you have to be very serious, and after that you have to laugh". He imitated perfectly what Sergio Leone said. He was an angel, nice man, very nice man.

CK: How were Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood getting along in those days?

LV: Very well.

CK: Were you personally present during the shooting of these films.

LV: Yes, I used to go, because Sergio sometimes want to make some changes. I went to Almeria for GBU and DYS.

CK: How do you comment on Leone as a director?

LV: He was very tough because he believed in what he was doing. I knew him from many many years ago. He was the assistant director of an old Italian director, by the name of Bonnard. And he was making a movie based on a story of mine with Aldo Fabrizia, the famous actor, in Bologna. In the middle of the shooting Bonnard fell sick, and so Sergio Leone, for the first time in his life, became director, and finished the movie. And, the movie was a very successfull. It was a comedy. And, from that moment, he started to be a director. After we met each other, he came to me because he was scared after the big success of A Fistful of Dollars. He wanted to make the second movie. He was scared to have a flop. So, he came to me, because at that time I was famous from some particular movies, like "La Grande Guerra", things like that. So, he asked me to write the screenplay of FDM, becasue the story was from him. He wrote the story. I accepted because I liked the idea of writing a western. We started our collaboration that kept going for a few years.

CK: I remember reading articles saying that Leone was very active in showing the characterizations, and scenes personally during the story discussions...

LV: If you read the book of Oreste DeFornari, you can see there the relation between Peter Bogdanovich and Leone. I was there in the middle because I was the diplomatic man, but it was impossible. After the enormous success, naturally he became a little arrogant, because in his life he had suffered a lot. Before he became successful he ate a lot of shit. He became arrogant because everybody started to applaud him, you know.

CK: Was he a rich person before he became famous?

LV: Absolutely not!! He became very very rich because he was very greedy. He never spent one dime, and he made a lot of money, I mean a lot.

CK: So, tell me more about Leone as a person

LV: Very intelligent, and had great sense of humor.

CK: How was Leone during the editing periods?

LV: It is a common case in all the directors' case. They never want to cut. They are in love with the film. So, naturally sometimes they don't realize the sense of dimension. Each frame was a fight. I used to go to the editing room once in a while. Generally, it was the editor, his assistants, and the director. When he needed help, he asked the people whom he trusted.

CK: You have mentioned in the interview with DeFornari that Leone shot 1.5 million feet of film, which came down to only 13,500 feet. Which film you were referring there?

LV: Practically in many of them, starting from OUITW, DYS and the last one (OUITA). The last one was the record. That film was what I was referring to in that interview.

CK: Why was it like that?

LV: Because he never was happy with it. He was always the perfectionist.

CK: Did you meet with him during the making of that film?

LV: No, I was in America at that time, working for a film for Dino DeLorentiis.

CK: Was Sergio Donati involved with FDM?

LV: No, I guess he just wrote a scene. He mainly worked on OUTIW, and on DYS with me. He is the real author of OUTIW.

CK: How about Bertolucci? Didn't he write the first treatment for OUTIW?

LV: I don't know about that because I wasn't involved with that film, and I am very impartial about it. But, I personally read the screenplay that Sergio Donati wrote.

CK: Why weren't you involved in OUTIW? Did you have a different work in your hand?

LV: No, I just fought with Sergio. We had a big fight, and then we came together in DYS. We had a another fight, and after that we never worked again.

CK: When was the first fight you had with him?

LV: It was during the editing of GBU.

CK: May I ask what the reason of your fight was?

LV: I was responsible in front of the UA. I was in the middle. They told me "Luciano please, we don't want anything over 2 hours". When I saw the first cut, I had to cut 45 minutes. So, we had to fight, and I was temperamental.

CK: So, in the end he did what he wanted to do, right?

LV: Yes

CK: Was Leone playing the soundtrack of GBU during the shooting?

LV: Not exactly the soundtrack. Sometimes he used some music to help the situation. The main music was put after the film was made.

CK: Why do you think Leone refused to make the sequel of GBU, that you wrote?

LV: Mainly because he was angry with me. The producer offered him 1 million dollars only to put his name as "Sergio Leone presents". He didn't want me to make money, so he refused.

CK: Do you remember the total budget of GBU?

LV: It was somewhere in the range of 1.2 or 1.3 million dollars.

CK: Based on your experiences, how do you compare Sergio Leone wiht other film makers?

LV: He was very good for action movies, as you know. It is not comparable. Each director has his own personality.

CK: Were you going to involve with him in any of his upcoming projects if he didn't die, like in the movie about the Seige of Leningrad?

LV: He just told me about it once. Unfortunately he died. I am sure it would be a great movie.

The Second Interview: May 2, 1998

CK: In Leone's westerns that you worked on, whose idea was to use the time element so differently? I mean, who developed the idea of using a slow rhytm of time, like showing concurrent events sequentially, especially in the extended duel scenes, such as the one at the end of GBU, with long music, stares etc.?

LV: That was Leone's style. He was a slow director.

CK: Were all those scenes on the original script or were they things that Leone created during the shootings?

LV: Naturally, when you worked with a director you have know his style. You just have to write down like "the two meet in the cemetary, one shoots first, the other shoots second". After that the director shoots a lot of film, and he then puts them all together in editing, following his personal timing.

CK: So you didn't specify all those details of the cemetary scene in GBU in the screenplay?

LV: No, you don't write all the details. It is impossible, especially with a director like Sergio Leone. Sergio Leone wrote the film with a camera. He shot 100,000 meters of film, and after that in the editing room it comes out like that. That sequence is the masterpiece of the movie, isn't it?

CK: It certainly is. That's why I felt like asking about its details.

LV: Sometimes, as a writer, we go into details like "He opens the door, stops, hears a noise, camera goes into his face. Now he is in panic. He moves one step". Those kinds of scenes take place in a little space. But, when you talk about a cemetary that is 100 yard squares with 3,000 tombstones, you write few things, and it is the director who performs.

CK: (In GBU) Whose idea was to freeze the frame, and write the main titles in red handwritten characters?

LV: I think it was the idea of the guy in charge of making the titles. Leone liked the idea, and approved it.

CK: You have also worked on some of the best non-Leone Spaghetti Westerns, like "Death Rides a Horse", and "Il Mercenario". Was there a wish or desire from the directors of these films to resemble Leone's style? When you watch them you can see that those films have some of the critical Leonian elements, like the editing and music - and you, of course. How do you comment on that?

LV: Everybody tried. After the success of FDM and GBU, they made several hundres of westerns in Italy in 6 years. Everybody tried to copy the style of Sergio Leone. Very few had a success. In "Death Rides A Horse", United Artists wanted me to supervise the director. So, I gave him all the Sergio Leone collaborators, and I followed all the shooting in Spain. I fought here and there, but the movie wasn't so bad. It was a good success for United Artists.

CK: Is it right that Sam Peckinpah was to direct DYS?

LV: Sergio Leone was thinking first Peter Bogdanovich to direct the film. Then Peckinpah, then his assistant director, and after that he wanted me to direct the movie.

CK: Why didn't Peckinpah direct the film?

LV: Because Peckinpah was a very smart man, like Peter Bogdanovich. Never a smart director accepts to have another director as a producer. Especially if this producer is a man, arrogant, vulgar, and incultivated like Sergio Leone.

CK: Did Leone know Peckinpah personally well?

LV: They knew each other, and they hated each other.

CK: Is it right that Leone was obliged to direct the film because of Coburn's and Stegier's objections?

LV: Sure, they didn't accept any other solution.

CK: I read somewhere that the film was started with the direction of Giancarlo Santi, and later Leone took over. How long did Santi's direction last?

LV: No, no, Coburn and Steiger didn't want to make the film without Sergio Leone.

CK: So, Leone was the director from the day one until the end, right?

LV: Yes.

CK: Was Rod Steiger thought to be in the film from the very beginning? For example, why didn't Leone use Eli Wallach?

LV: I don't know exactly. I think that at that time Eli Wallach was angry with Leone for some personal reason. I remember vaigly that there was something wrong between them. Some dirty story, but I can not remember the details.

CK: As far as I know, some of the films you just developed the screenplay, and in some of them you contributed to the original story. Which is the most desirable way of working for you? I mean, do you prefer to work from the original story, or do you prefer to work on the screenplay for the already developed story?

LV: I always liked to work on my original story. Sometimes the originaly story belonged to another writer, sometimes it was a novel. I had a kind of special appeal for my original story.

CK: Even the Civil War was a part of your original story of GBU?

LV: Yes, naturally. I had previously done a movie, which was very successful in Venice Film Festival in 1959, called as "La Grande Guerro" (The Great War) with Vittorio Gassman. It was based on the 1st World War, and from there I captured the idea to make western. Three bums across the Civil War. That's how the idea of GBU developed.

CK: Is it right that Leone was terribly upset when he heard the term "Spaghetti Western" coined for his films?

LV: Naturally, he was insulted. But, that's not the reason why he stopped making westerns. Sergio Leone's films were so successful worldwide that it is an insult he didn't deserve.

CK: After all your experience with many directors, how would you compare Leone with others?

LV: I don't think I can compare him with anyone, because he was very special. He had his own personality. He was somewhat like a spoiled child, very big talent, very serious in his work. He worked as if each movie he made was the movie of his life. He was very meticuluos, professional, and sometimes even too much.

CK: Are you actively working nowadays?

LV: Yeah, I have couple of things going on.

CK: Have you ever tried acting?

LV: I tell you something. I may sound pretentious to you, but when I was young I was a good looking man. My problem was that when I used to work on productions, they always asked me to act. But I had my stories, and I wanted to be a writer. So, I always refused them because I was scared of the camera. I had a sort of camera panic. Except only once in my life, because I desparately needed money. I accepted to play as an actor in movie, that was a disaster. The director was an American, named Hugo Fregonese, and the movie was with Peter Ustinov. Peter Ustinov was the bad man, I was the angel, the hero. They offered the part to Marcello Mastroianni, but he was too expensive. So they bought me. They paid me a little money, and I played this part. Everyday I was in a kind of stress and panic before going in front of the camera. I tried to commit suicide three times. Before the end of the movie, I fought with the director. I punched him on the nose, and I left the production. They followed me, and sued me. They had to finish the film with another actor, who was shot always on the back, dressed like me. The title of the film in Italian was "I Girovaghi". The movie was a disaster. I never saw the movie. Actually, I didn't want my name on the movie. 30 years later, one day my mother called me said "Now I know that my son is an idiot". I said "Why mom?". She said "I saw you in a movie. You are a disaster as an actor". So, that's the end of my acting career. But, I never acted again.

CK: What year was that?

LV: It was in 1956. I was a baby.

CK: In the book of Oreste DeFornari, Peter Bogdanovich speaks very highly of you.

LV: He's a nice friend. We have a lot of stories in common.

CK: And, in that interview in the same book, he goes on saying "For some reason best known to himself, he really wanted me to direct this picture - a lot more than I did". Did you really worked hard for him to direct the film?

LV: Yes, I wanted, and I tried very hard. But, no way. They fought from the first moment. They hated each other.

CK: Then, why did he ask for somebody at the first place?

LV: It was UA, who suggested us to contact Bogdanovich, because he was a young and very successful director at that time. He just had finished made a movie, named "Targets". That was a little cheap movie, that made a big money. And, he flew to Italy, we started working, but they hated each other. Everything happened in my house actually.

CK: As far as I understand from various interviews, Leone also hated Eastwood as well.

LV: I don't think he did when they were together. The directors normally don't want to share the success with others. When Sergio Leone started capturing the feeling that the critics ans the audience identify his movies with Clint Eastwood's movies, he started to hate Clint Eastwood. So, he wanted Charles Bronson for the last western (OUTIW). But, to tell you the truth, a lot of directors are like that. I worked with a lot of directors. They don't want to share it with the actor. Americans are different, because they look for the stars. Everybody is very pleased and flattered to make a movie with DeNiro, Pacino, Dustin Hoffman. They jump on the head of the director. For the large audiences, they know their stars, they don't give a shit to the director. Sergio was very pretentious. One day I remember Frederico Fellini called me. He was laughting on the phone. I asked "Frederico, what's going on?". He said "You know, just few minutes ago, Sergio Leone called me, and said Frederico, myself and you, we are the real Italian movie directors. He compared himself with me" I started to laugh as well. (laughs).

CK: Do you agree with some of the critics saying that the real success of the Italian movie industry in the 60s, mainly Sergio Leone films, lie within the know-how Americans left after their Sandal & Sword films, made in Italy?

LV: I tell you something, I am Venecian, and so I am not the special admirer of Italians. Honestly, I have to tell you that Italians, who work in the movie industry, don't need to learn anything from Americans. May be, it is possible to teach somethings to the Americans. And, there is no chauvinism in my words, because I hate Italians.

CK: How would you comment on the Italian film industry today?

LV: They start to grow again. We have a number of young directors that are doing well, better and better. I think that very soon they will come back to the glorious moments of the past. What is now defficient in Italy is the category of producers. We don't have any more of Dino De Laurentiis, Carlo Ponti, (Franco) Cristaldi. They were the real producers. Now we have only a bunch of promoters that want to make money before to start a movie. They only make movies not to have a success from them, but to put money in ther pockets.

CK: I should say that people in Turkey really enjoyed those great Italian films...

LV: May I say something, I made a lot of movies very successful with Mario Monicelli, with Pietro Germi. I think that the movies I made with Sergio Leone were not the best ones I have done in my life.

CK: Why is that?

LV: Because I wrote them with a left hand. I wrote them just as a joke. I have written movies that won film festival in Cannes, and Venice with with Mario Monicelli, with Pietro Germi. There were screenplays, for which we suffered over the paper for months. Do you know how long it took me to write the FDM?

CK: How long?

LV: 9 days. Do you how long it took me to write the GBU?

CK: No I don't. How long did it take?

LV: 11 days.

CK: Entire story and the screenplay together?

LV: Yes, yes.

CK: Is it because of Leone's influence?

LV: No, no. I understand that you are an admirer of Leone's films, and indirectly of my work. But, think for a moment. Do you believe that it is a serious attempt for a guy from Venice, that's me, and a guy from Rome, that's Sergio Leone, to write a western based in Monument Valley? It's a joke. It's like an American director who comes to Naple, and make a film about a story on Napolitans. It doesn't make any sense. It was miracle happened. I am very glad, everybody is very glad, but, let's face it, this was a miracle!! Another crazy Italian story.

CK: But, didn't Americans do the same with their myhtological films, like Spartacus and others?

LV: That is a myhtology. Myhtology belongs to humanity. Americans have the right to make movie about Roman Empiror. Myhtology is another thing. But, making a western we ought to touch the very recent story of the US.

CK: Is it right that Leone made a very deep research about the American history, about the the way people lived, dressed, and so on, before making these westerns?

LV: Yes, I was there. It is the research that I made in the Library of Congress, in Washington.

CK: Were you with Leone, or did you do it yourself?

LV: Leone was with me, but mainly stayed in the hotel. I was in the library working.

CK: Is it right that he was very actively interfering with the job of his directors of photography?

LV: He knew his job perfectly. He started to eat film when he was just one year old because his father was a director too. He knew everything about cinema really.

CK: How is his family doing now?

LV: Very rich. His son is a producer for TV. He has two daughters married, and made children. His wife, Carla, very nice woman, inherited millions of dollars. I hope she has a lover (laughs).
The Third Interview: May 13, 1998

CK: How was the dialog writing process working in Leone movies? I assume you were writing in Italian, right?

LV: I was writing to Italian, and after the final screenplay is over, it was translated to English.

CK: Were you involved with the translation process of the scripts as well?

LV: Sometimes I was talking with the translator, who was Mickey Knox actually.

CK: Whose idea were those famous one-liners?, like "there are two kinds of spurs" ?

LV: All the dialogue was mine. I wrote them all.

CK: Being a bilingual, are you satisfied with the translations?

LV: Yes I was, because in that process everybody had a chance to say something. For example, even Clint Eastwood said to me sometimes "Luciano, the translation is better in this way".

CK: Has there been any changes or variations while shooting them from the original screenplay?

LV: No, never. This was the Sergio Leone style. He never changed the screenplay.

CK: I remember reading some funny stories about the process of dubbing, which goes like Leone had told some non-English actors to count up to ten during the shooting, and then dub over it. Is there any truth in it?

LV: Sometimes, with some minor character, yes.

CK: Many people wrote about Leone's films having some religious and family-centric hidden messages, and symbolism. Did he have all these in his mind planned, or were they all intrinsic part of these films, that came out instinctively?

LV: Absolutely not !!! Frederico Fellini told me once "I am surprised how many significations the critics found in my movies. I like to make movies just because that makes me happy. I make the movie for fun, and after that they come out with implications and philosophies". That's a weird part of this business. Do you imagine Sergio Leone with a philosophy? Come on!

CK: So, you don't consider Leone as an intellectual at all, right?

LV: Absolutely not!! He was a great director on the set. That's it!!

CK: When I watched FDM and GBU for the first time, I personally had some difficulty in understanding the plot clearly. It didn't seem like an easily perceived plot, unlike many other simple westerns. In fact, I was with a couple of friends when I watched FDM, and we had a long discussion about the relationship between Colonel and the girl, who killed herself under Indio, and about the relationship between Colonel and Eastwood whether they were father and son or brothers? It seemed to me as if somethings were kept implicit, rather than explicit. Was it planned that way? If so, whose idea was it to keep a bit of suspense in audience mind?

LV: (His voice gets a bit nervous) No, you try to find philoshopical significations out of nothing. We just like to write like that story simple for the audience, and the success of the movies proved that we were right. Without any philosophy, if you know what I mean. I made about 100 movies in my life, and a lot of them won film festivals in Cannes, and in Venice. In those movies, may be I put somethings, but not in the western!! Yes, nobody knew if that woman (in FDM) was the daugther, or the sister of Colonel. It wasn't that explicit. I think that we already talked way too much about the movies of Sergio Leone. I understand that you are writing a book, but what else can I say? I have a lot of movies that I love. The movies I did with Sergio Leone were just successful, and that's it!!

CK: What was Eastwood's name in that film? Manco, or Monco?

LV: It was Monco. In Italian it means a man with only one hand.

CK: Leone always said in some interviews that his western film ideas were all developed from Sicilian puppet convention (Sicilian marionattes). How was this reflected in his films and your story writing process?

LV: Ahh, well, Sergio Leone was so surprised to be successfull, and he started to take himself too seriously. And, there was a moment in which he supposed himself to be something in between Bernard Shaw and Karl Marx

CK: You previously said that you have written Leone films with left handed. I also sense the same thing with DYS. In my opinion, it really is a different film with different characters and different tones, without the high level of excitements we found in his earlier westerns....

LV: Well, we were many people working on DYS. There was Sergio Donati as well. We were tired of those typical western scenes, when people just came and shot. It was ridiculous. It was a moment when I wanted to run away from those type of films

CK: How did your political opinions get along with Leone's?

LV: I have no political opinion. I only have feelings against the Fascist and Nazis. But I never voted in my life for this kind of democracy in Italy. Those bunch of thieves!! I never wanted to make my work with politics. Naturally, I have a common sense that made me write in the right way. I once wrote a play for the stage that was very successful worldwide. It was about two anarchist, in the name of Sacco and Vanzetti, who were executed in the US. That play was very politically involved, but I wasn't involved. I wasn't an anarchist, communist or whatever. I was involved because there were two human beings, who were condemned to life sentence, and they were actually innocent, and I am against the death penalty.

CK: Why did Leone feel like exposing the idea of Christ by Coburn's role?

LV: No, no, the real idea was that he was supposed to be God, and James Coburn to be his son, Jesus Christ. You understand what I mean? (He paused briefly) I don't understand why you people take seriously like what he meant to say and so on.

CK: Were they the clear indications of Leone becoming more and more arrogant after reading what press and critics wrote about him?

LV: Naturally. He discover Sergio Leone through the journalists and critics. He discovered himself.

CK: As you know, Leone was working with one of the most political actors, Gian Maria Volonte...

LV: (laughs) But, not in the Leone movies.

CK: How was the atmosphere between him and such a big actor?

LV: He wasn't a big actor when he was working with Sergio Leone. Volonte started with the stage acting in the theatre. He was playing in "Sacco and Vanzetti". He started in my game playing "Sacco". 1960 was the first success of his life. He was a very good actor.

CK: Were there problems between Steiger and Leone during the first stages? I read the part of Leone's interview at Oreste DeFornari's book about DYS, where he said that Steiger was very uncomfortable not being able to see the script during the preparations. Leone said in that interview that "He (Steiger) kept on insisting 'I want the script!'. One day I pointed to my head. For a moment I was afraid that he would break it open in order to read the invisible script". Have you personally witnessed to those days?

LV: That was a big war between two arrogants. Can you imagine it? Two arrogant, and both supposed to be the God. Can you imagine what happened? And, I was in the middle. I know that story.

CK: Do you know anything about the story between Arrighi Columbo (Leone's first producer in "A Fistful of Dollars") and Leone? It is said that Columbo forced Leone to make another film before he paid him anything. Any truth in here?

LV: Yes, I know the story. The story is that Leone had a contract with Columbo for a sequel, and because Grimaldi paid him more, Leone didn't respect the deal. And, Columbo tried to sue him.

CK: Did you know that the books, I have read so far, wrote a different story?

LV: Well, I don't care because I am not interested in it. I am interested in Chaplin, Billy Wilder, Bergman, Truffaut.

CK: What do you say about Leone always referring to Chaplin school of comedy about the comic parts in GBU? As some sources indicate, did you refer to Monseur Verdoux when writing for GBU?

LV: No, no I wrote GBU in 11 days, and I didn't have time to refer to anything. I mean I have too much respect for Charlie Chaplin to involve him with a western.

CK: What can you say a bit about Leone-Morricone collaboration? How did they work together?

LV: Well, Morricone is a great musician, and he was patient, very nice, very sweet and they were Roman. They knew each other when they were children. So, they collaborated very well.

CK: Who brought the idea of Indio smoking a dope in FDM?

LV: At that time marijuana was very fashionable, especially for a Mexican, and we used the idea in that film.

CK: Well, I personally feel somewhat surprised after hearing all what you told me, because prior to meeting you in person, the only source I read about your opinions on Leone was at the book by Oreste DeFornari, and you spoke in much softer tone there. You obviously didn't take up the matters like you do with me. Why is this change? Or, in other words, if you really think like this, why did you speak like the way you did in DeFornari's book?

LV: If you read that book very well, you can realize that I was always critical about Sergio Leone. Gentle but critical. I always say he was a great director. After all, when Fornari wrote the book, I was in the US. He called me, I spoke from the US and etc. After I came back, before Sergio died, I found a lot of interviews that Sergio Leone gave around, and I discovered that he started to put himself on top of all the people that worked and made his fortune, including me. And so, I told myself that's a son of a bitch.

CK: After all those years, if you are told to choose one western film to watch now, which one would you choose? A classic American or a Leone western?

LV: May be a couple of American westerns that I would like to see.

CK: Such as...

LV: "Stage Coach", "Last Night in Warlock"

CK: So, isn't there any Italian westerns worth watching?

LV: Hey, hey, I want to stop now, but I want to tell you the last things. Every time I see my movies, FDM, GBU, DYS on TV in Italy or in the US, I am ashamed of myself.

CK: Even the ones you did with others, I mean the non-Leone westerns?

LV: All the westerns. Only the idea that Italians making westerns was just a comic. We were very lucky. I made money. OK, I am very glad because I love money, but my honour, as a writer, is hurt by those movies. You understand what I mean?

CK: It's kind of hard, but I'll try. I have been interested in the films of Leone for many years, and I have read many articles, books, and documents, but never came across to any in-depth interview or article on yourself, until DeFornari's book. Since you must know about it better than I, can you recommend me any other?

LV: Well, wait a moment. Don't move, ha! I'll be back. (he goes and comes back in a shortwhile). Do you have to buy the book, by the title of "Once Upon A Time The Films of Sergio Leone" by Robert C.Cumbow?

CK: I already have it. I read that book. Great book, by the way, and has a small commentary part on you.

LV: You have it under your hand now?

CK: Yes, right in front of me now.

LV: Open page 149.

CK: OK, I opened the page now.

LV: Have you found "Luciano Vincenzoni" there?

CK: Yes, right in front of me. (In my copy, the part on Vincenzoni begins at page 148)

LV: Read it!
(Vincenzoni made me read loudly the three paragraph that Robert Cumbow wrote about him. He listened quitely while I read through the part)
LV: Now, you know who I am.

CK: Well, I already knew these things. Nothing new for me here.

LV: This guy is intelligent. I never spoke with him. He made only one mistake saying that I worked on materials of others. No, I was always at the base of the original story. But, he is the guy who understands that the sense of humor was coming from me, because I didn't take the movies seriously. I came up with some humour because I hated writing western. I find ridiculous that an Italian, or a Venician like me, writing a western. So, being so detached came about a lot of humour. That's it!

CK: What do you comment about new generation American films? If you had the chance, who would like to work with among today's contemporary directors?

LV: Well, a lot...

CK: Such as?

LV: I have a lot names...

CK: How about Tarantino?

LV: I don't like that kind of movies with violence. But, who wouldn't like to work with Scorcese? Who wouldn't like to work with Mike Nichols? Sidney Pollack, for example. I would like to work with Lucas or Spielberg, but not in that kind of movie. I would like to work with Coen brothers. I have a great relation with Billy Wilder. I worked with him in the US. We love each other. Even now that he is 92 years old, we still talk a couple times a week.

CK: Since you are one of the main contributors to the genre, I'd like to ask why Italians became so heavily involved with making hundreds of westerns in such a short time?

LV: Because they costed nothing, and people made a lot of money. You know how many westerns they made in Italy after Leone?

CK: I think it must be around 500 or so...

LV: 800. Sergio Leone did such a thing that created jobs for 10,000 people for 10 years. In a way, he was a saint.

CK: Who was the real creator of the "Man with No Name"s image? Is it Leone or Eastwood?

LV: I am no tender to Leone, but they are all Leone's ideas.

CK: Do you think his son, Andrea, will do something credible in the future

LV: Andrea is a very nice boy. I hope he makes somethings good. I know that he wants to be a producer. I think he is doing somethings for television. I think that he was on a major tv production, titled as "Colt". And, I think (Sergio) Donati is involved. I hope one day or another he makes it.

CK: So, after all the things you said, I feel like asking this question. Did Leone ever have any good, close friend, like a buddy?

LV: Yes, he had one

CK: Who?

LV: Sergio Leone (laughters).

CK: Is it right that Leone's films played in theatres of the major European countries for many years non-stop?

LV: Yes, that's possible. I believe that GBU is still playing in Japan, after 30 years.

CK: What do you think about Sam Peckinpah?

LV: A great director, and a great man. I knew him

CK: Did you know him personally?

LV: Oh yes, naturally. When he was making "Convoy".

CK: What did Leone think about Peckinpah's films?

LV: I don't know.

CK: Do you remember the scene in "My Name is Nobody" where Terence Hill walks upto to a graveyard in an Indian cemetary and reads Peckinpah's name on the gravestone.

LV: Oh yeah, I know that scene. It was his feelings for Peckinpah. He wanted to say with that scene "Leone put Peckinpah in the grave, because Leone is better than Peckinpah".

CK: Can you imagine what would it be like to see a film jointly made by these two men, and you writing the script?

LV: No, they would have killed each other.

CK: Who would you rate as the best director, among the ones you have worked with?

LV: Pietro Germi, Mario Monicelli and Billy Wilder.

CK: If you weren't a writer, what would you be?

LV: A lawyer. I am a law graduate. I was also interested in writing, and I became successful in that, and I stop working on law. But, my destiny was to be a lawyer.

CK: Which country's cinema is your favorite?

LV: Every cinematography had its moment in the history. French cinematography was great in the 30s, Italian in the 40s and 50s, English was in the 70s, 80s and still now. American industry has always been great, but they were more involved with the monetary side than the artistic side. But, they have great directors and movies here and there.

CK: What is your opinion about Hollywood way of film making?

LV: Well, I have worked with Hollywood for 12 years. They have money and power. They make films that shock people. In Italy, only 20% of the films are Italian. 80 % of them are American. Same happens in France, England, Germany.

CK: Where do you think this will lead to?

LV: They have a great organization worldwide, industry, money. Americans spend 50 million dollars for one movie, and 25 million dollars only for its advertisement. In Italy, they don't spend a dime for advertisement. They spend 25 million dollars to make 10 movies. It's a concept that Americans have in making the films. It's a concept of making business for them. They know about the organization. They pay great sums of money to movies, actors, writers, directors. The fee they pay to a first class American director, you can make two movies in Italy. A first class director in America can easily make 5, 6, 8, or even 10 million dollars. A writer can make 2 or 3 million dollars for a screenplay. In Italy, if I make 75,000 dollars, I am happy.

CK: What do you think about "Titanic"?

LV: Even if I live for three centuries, I never never want to see this kind of movie. I don't give a shit. I am not interested to see a movie like that. When I want to see an American movie, I go to see movie from the independent producers, not from major companies.

CK: Can you give me an example to that?

LV: Like Coen brothers. They make movies as independent. Tarantino is crazy about Leone movies. He likes them very much, but he he himself makes totally different kind of movies. But, a lot of young directors like Leone movies. I mean a lot.

CK: I guess they should come and speak with you to get the whole perspective. Right?

LV: No, not necessarily. It was a magic moment, and, let me say, also for me. But, it was just a lucky moment. I never want to be pretentious. As I told you, in Italian tv channels, they play FDM and GBU, almost like in every three months. In the US, they are on syndication. I never want to see the movies.

CK: Come on, for heavens sake, don't be so harsh....

LV: No, they are heavy, stupid sometimes. Remember that scene in FDM, when they catch Clint Eastwood stealing the money, and Indio's gang start to punch him. You see the closeup of faces. Everybody laughs crazily (he imitates those extended sadistic laughters in that particular scene of FDM). I said Leone "please, what is this? Some people punch, and others laugh like they are in the carnival of Rio" We have 13 idiots all punching and laughing, minutes and minutes long without any stop. Besides it is not realistic, because if a man is punched by 13 other men in that way, in two minutes he is gone for good. This is to be realistic, you understand what I mean?

CK: I guess Leone didn't agree with you in that. If you put apart the realistic side of it, wouldn't you find some cinematic qualities in these films, like the final cemetary scene in GBU, particularly Eli Wallach's performance?

LV: There were some sequences, which were very good. But, in GBU, there were so many ugly scenes. They worked out good, because the story was good. If you take out the cemetary scene, you have nothing. Leone started to be good as a sophisticated director, with OUITW, which I wasn't involved. After that, some little little scenes in DYS, but the real sophistication came with the last one, OUTIA.

CK: Do you personally appreciate the work in OUTIA?

LV: The directing work, yes. But, the screenplay was weak. Can you imagine in the US, a man that was a gangster 30 years ago disappears, and becomes a governor of Massachusett, with another name? I mean, come on, get out of here!! How is this possible? This is the limit of Sergio Leone and his collaborators. They didn't know that if a man wants to be a governor in the US, he has to expose his whole family history for three centruies. The base of the plot is based on things like these, so that the whole movie collapses.

CK: I have read similar type of comments from Sergio Donati as well.

LV: Sergio Leone was a great director. He had a pictorial sense of view. You understand what I mean? He took himself very seriously. He thougth he was supposed to be Michelangelo, sometimes Napoleon the 1st, and sometimes even Julius Caesar. He had no limit.

CK: If he didn't find Clint Eastwood, who do you think he would have chosen?

LV: One good side of Leone was that he was great in finding face characters, like Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. He was lucky he found Clint Eastwood. If he didn't find Eastwood, he, for sure, would find another one, and that other one today would be as successful as Eastwood.

CK: What do you say about Leone's interest on Henry Fonda?

LV: Leone thought Fonda had a special kind of gestual that he liked. He found Fonda very close to him as a kind of actor he likes.

CK: About Leone's stinginess, I also heard from various sources that he really was a close-fisted guy, but on the other hand, it is also known that he liked smoking big Havana cigars, had luxury cars and collected 17th century antique objects. How can a stingy man would spend so much money on these luxury items?

LV: I introduced Leone to smoking cigars. As for the cars, he bought his first Mazarrati because I had one. If you gave him a date, sometimes he used to arrive two hours late. I asked him "Sergio, what happened?". He said "Well, I was out of gas", because he used to buy just 2 dollars worth of gas for such a hungry car instead of a full tank, and he always ran out of it in the middle of the way.

CK: Was Leone a tough man at home?

LV: Very good father and a very good husband because it didn't cost him anything (laughters). I know all about Sergio Leone. Don't put me in the middle, ha! All those are jokes.

CK: So, after all I hear from you and others, I believe one can make a very good film about the life of Leone. That would be an interesting film.

LV: No, I don't think so. I don't see any drama in his life (laughs).

CK: Doesn't have to be a drama...

LV: I don't see any comedy neither. It was a very simple life.

CK: Is it right that he had a very good sense of humour?

LV: Ooooh absolutely, he was a great story teller. He had great jokes.

FDM: For A Few Dollars More GBU: The Good The Bad and The Ugly
OUTIW: Once Upon A Time In The West DYS: Duck You Sucker
OUTIA: Once Upon A Time In America

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