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Topics - Wim den Boer

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Sergio Leone News / Leone @ American Cinematheque
« on: January 02, 2003, 01:29:05 AM »
Sergio Leone Retrospective
Born into a filmmaking family, director Sergio Leone (1929 – 1989) was one of the great larger-than-life personalities of not just Italian, but world cinema. Leone entered the filmmaking arena while still a teenager, laboring as an assistant director, screenwriter and bit player. Among the many films he worked on (sometimes uncredited) were the American co-productions QUO VADIS?, HELEN OF TROY, THE NUN’S STORY and BEN-HUR. While employed as an assistant director on THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII in 1959, Leone found himself suddenly thrust into the director’s chair halfway through production when the original director became too ill to continue. It wasn’t long afterwards that Leone received his first fully-credited director’s job on the epic gladiator opus, COLUSSUS OF RHODES in 1961.

Inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO and seeing unique possibilities in the newly burgeoning Spaghetti Western craze, Leone (under the pseudonym Bob Robertson!) helmed A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS in 1964, starring virtually unknown American TV star Clint Eastwood. The rest is history. The first DOLLARS picture proved a mega-hit in Europe and did well enough in the States to encourage United Artists to release its sequel, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965), which fared even better and paved the way for the majestically gritty masterpiece and conclusion of the trilogy, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966). These three unrepentantly nihilistic, ultra-violent horse operas not only revolutionized the western genre and forever cemented Leone’s trademark visual style of epic vistas and meticulous production design punctuated by claustrophobically emotional close-ups, but branded Ennio Morricone as one of the most original, eclectically fluid soundtrack composers of his generation.

Leone followed up his successful Eastwood films with his operatic masterwork ONCE UPON ATIME IN THE WEST (1968), starring Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards and a memorably murderous Henry Fonda, and the tragicomic chronicle of the Mexican revolution, DUCK YOU SUCKER (1972). Throughout the rest of the seventies, Leone concentrated mainly on producing the films of others, among them two Terence Hill comic westerns, MY NAME IS NOBODY (1973) and A GENIUS (1975). It wasn’t until 1984 that the moviegoing public was able to view Leone’s next directorial effort, a visually stunning, magnum opus about Prohibition-era Jewish gangsters in New York, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, starring Robert De Niro. Sadly, it turned out to be the great maestro’s swan song. Sergio Leone died of a heart attack in 1989. (Note: ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA is withdrawn from distribution - we hope to be able to screen a restored print of the film in the near future.)


Thursday, January 2 – 7:15 PM

Double Feature:

New 35 mm. Print! A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (PER UN PUGNO DE DOLLARI), 1964, MGM/UA, 99 min. Director Sergio Leone remade Akira Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO with Clint Eastwood as a poncho-wearing, cheroot-chewing assassin, and wound up with the most revolutionary Western of the 1960’s (aided by composer Ennio Morricone’s instantly memorable theme music). Co-starring the great Italian actor Gian Maria Volonte (INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION) as Eastwood’s nemesis.

Ultra-rare Screening – Leone’s First Film! THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES (I COLOSSO DI RODI), 1960, MGM (Warner Bros.), 128 min. After toiling as assistant director on a number of Italian films since the late 1940’s, Sergio Leone got his first feature credit as director with this wildly colorful sword & sandal epic. Rock-jawed American action hero Rory Calhoun stars as Darios, a Greek warrior who gets involved in a maze of romance, betrayal and revolution surrounding the construction of the mighty statue of Apollo at Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.


Friday, January 3 – 7:15 PM

Double Feature:

FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (PER QUALCHE DOLLARO IN PIU), 1965, MGM/UA, 130 min. Sergio Leone’s sequel to FISTFUL stars Clint Eastwood and Lee van Cleef as rival bounty hunters who wind up tracking the same man (Gian Maria Volonte.) The final 3-way shootout ranks with the greatest set pieces in movie-making history.

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY (IL BUONO, IL BRUTTO, IL CATTIVO), 1966, MGM/UA, 161 min. From the opening whistle and whipcrack theme, to the final images of a vast cemetery stretching almost to infinity, THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY is surely one of the bloodiest, funniest and most wickedly entertaining portraits of human corruption ever made. Leone’s surreal masterpiece of the American West during the last days of the Civil War follows a trio of equally violent and unrepentant gunslingers (Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee van Cleef) who engage in a jawdropping series of double- and triple-crosses to get their hands on a fortune in stolen Confederate gold.


Saturday, January 4 – 5:00 PM

Double Feature:

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (C’ERA UNA VOLTA IL WEST), 1968, Paramount, 165 min. Leone’s vast, mournful, brilliantly poetic epic of the rape and conquest of the American West stars Charles Bronson as a soft-spoken, harmonica-blowing gunslinger bent on revenge against corporate railroad assassin Henry Fonda, in one of the most chilling portraits of consummate evil ever put on screen. Co-starring the phenomenal Claudia Cardinale as a mail-order bride who proves more than a match for the men who would claim her, and Jason Robards as a wry, wiley bandido with an agenda of his own. Co-written by (are you ready for this?) Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci - ! Note: this is a rare print of the full-length, director’s cut version of the film.

DUCK YOU SUCKER aka A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE (GIU LA TESTA), 1971, MGM/UA, 138 min. The last—and least-seen—of Sergio Leone’s epic Westerns: earthy peasant Rod Steiger and Irishman James Coburn (hiding from the I.R.A.) find themselves tossed into the middle of the Mexican Revolution. Widely ignored on its release, DUCK YOU SUCKER looks better and better with each year: Leone’s blend of explosive action and boozy poetry is just strange enough to work. Music by Ennio Morricone.

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