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Aug 07 2019

De Laurentiis pt 3: Starting over in America

This week at TFE we're celebrating the centennial of one of cinema's most prolific and legendary producers,Dino De Laurentiis.In part one we looked athis breakout Italian hit,in part twoan expensive epic flop.Here's Mark Brinkerhoff as Dino crosses the Ocean...

Dino in 1970,and Al Pacino in Serpico (1973)
Dino De Laurentiis stormed Hollywood in the early ‘70s,quickly on the heels of fantastic successes like 1968'sBarbarellaandDanger: Diabolik ,which e ssentially closed out his previous decade ("essentially"because,man oh man,was this man ever prolific).
Having branched from Neo-Italian into more international,English-language cinema,De Laurentiis set his sights on riding the New Hollywood wave then cresting.While still making the occasional spaghetti western and period piece,his films began to dabble more in contemporary themes.In fact,aside fromThe Valachi Papers(1972),hisThe Godfathermanqué,De Laurentiis' initial forays into filming stateside resulted in his grittiest,most modern productions to date...

Speaking ofThe Godfather,De Laurentiis enlisted that film's breakout star,Al Pacino ("Best Supporting Actor"my ass),to headlineSerpico(1973), Sidney Lumet's bracing adaptation of the true story of a New York City police officer who blew the lid wide open on systemic corruption within the NYPD.Though casting Pacino to play the real-life cop might seem like a no-brainer today,it may not have been back then...
To Pacino,at peak hotness,the chance to portray someone who ventured dangerously off the map in order to expose his corrupt fellow officers must've been irresistible.But for De Laurentiis,who called the shots from behind the scenes,it was still a gamble—one that paid off splendidly.(The film,which racked up Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay [Waldo Salt's penultimate],was one of the dozen highest-grossing movies that year.)
During the time ofSerpico's release,De Laurentiis already was hard at work on his next project (and perhaps his most enduring franchise),the icky vigilante film,Death Wish(1974).Post- Dirty Harryand pre-Taxi Driver,the Charles Bronson-fronted revenge fantasy —the first in a series of five (!!!) films—surely tapped into the angst of American urban culture in the ‘70s.It was as violent and graphic as the nightmares of city-dwellers worried about rising crime rates in cities that were turning into a seeming hell.And it became,of course,a zeitgeist hit (not to mention the screen debut of Jeff GoldblumandDenzel Washington).

Yes,Death Wishhit a nerve,and continued to hit it over,and over,and over again,over a 20-year period.That the originalDeath Wishlet Bronson loose on those who killed his wife and brutalized his daughter,a concept that seems awfully tired (at least to me),its staying power is not to be underestimated.Consider that Hollywood released aDeath Wishremake (starring Bruce Willis and Elisabeth Shue) just last year!
It's remarkable,though perhaps unsurprising,that De Laurentiis had such big commercial (if not critical) hits off the bat (which he followed up with the not-to-be-discussedMandingo,because,oh my God,do we have to?!).Clearly the man had taste in material,even when his choice of material could sometimes veer toward the tasteless.
Years after having formed (then folded) a studio in Italy, De Laurentiis established his own production facility stateside,in Wilmington,North Carolina of all places.(Fun fact: I've actually seen the former De Laurentiis Entertainment Group [DEG] studios in Wilmington,where my sister lives.They're now calledEUE/Screen Gems Studios .)

De Laurentiis relocated to the 1976,becoming an American citizen a decade later.But that's an era—for another day...i.e.tomorrow

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Reader Comments (1)

I'm enjoying this De Laurentiis retrospective.

August 7,2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

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