Dino De Laurentiis (Wikimedia Commons/Justin Sewell)
Film producer and entrepreneur Dino De Laurentiis died on Wednesday in Los Angeles at the age of 91. During a prolific career that included groundbreaking Italian neorealist films, spaghetti Westerns, literary epics, B-movie camp classics, low-budget horror films, big-budget action films and cutting-edge dramas, there was virtually no genre he shied away from. Dino De Laurentiis had a hand in making nearly 150 movies during a career that spanned over six decades.
Here are clips from 6 of our favorites.
La Strada (1954)
Though he began his producing career in 1940, Dino De Laurentiis’ first big international success came as the Italian neorealist movement was beginning to morph into something more poetic, more fanciful, a cinema more concerned with individual experiences of the human condition than with societal ills. Federico Fellini’s La Strada was on the cusp of this transition. The story of the simple woman Gelsomina who is sold to abusive circus strongman Zampano won the first Oscar ever given for the Best Foreign Language Film category, along with more than 50 other international awards.
Filmed simultaneously in French and English, this movie directed by Roger Vadim was a box-office and critical bomb upon its release, but has since become a cult classic. Jane Fonda would later regret her role in the film as she’d turned down both Bonnie and Clyde and Rosemary’s Baby to star in her then-husband Vadim’s movie. Another bit of trivia – the band Duran Duran takes its name from a character in the film.
Al Pacino’s star turn as an undercover cop unraveling as he tries to root out police corruption in this film directed by Sidney Lumet is widely considered one of his greatest roles. Based on the true-life story of NYPD detective Frank Serpico who testified against his former colleagues in 1971, Serpico cost a mere $1 million to film and raked in almost 30 times that amount, making Dino De Laurentiis one happy producer.
King Kong (1976)
This oft-maligned remake of the 1933 classic was scripted by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., who’d also worked for De Laurentiis on Three Days of the Condor and is now known as one half of the octogenarian film review duo Reel Geezers. The film received only a lukewarm critical response but reached a wide audience, making nearly $80 million for Paramount Pictures. It also launched the career of Jessica Lange, who played the part done famously by Fay Wray in the original. It was a tense, difficult shoot, with De Laurentiis at one point allegedly threatening to remove director John Guillermin from the picture (De Laurentiis had originally wanted Roman Polanski to direct).
The Dead Zone (1983)
We’d be remiss if we didn’t include a Stephen King collaboration among these clips. De Laurentiis brought lots of King material to the screen, including Firestarter (1984), Silver Bullet (1985), Cat’s Eye (1985), Maximum Overdrive (1986) and Sometimes They Come Back (1991). No stranger to horror, Dino De Laurentiis also produced sequels in the Halloween and Amityville franchises and financed Sam Raimi’s gory laffer Army of Darkness (1993). He was also the first producer to bring us a certain villain known as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, first played by the wonderful Brian Cox in Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986).
Blue Velvet (1986)
Featuring an unforgettable Dennis Hopper as the psychopathic Frank Booth, this surreal noir was one of the most controversial movies of the 1980s, but it has since gone on to be named in many critics' lists of the best films of all time. Much credit belongs to De Laurentiis for getting it to the screen. At the time, director David Lynch was coming off the disastrous Dune (1984), which De Laurentiis also produced. De Laurentiis would certainly have been forgiven for choosing not to work with Lynch again, especially given that the script had been making the studio rounds for half a decade and no one wanted to touch material deemed so far out of the mainstream. But because the director wasn’t a hot property – De Laurentiis was able to get him for a mere $6 million – and the cast were not big stars, the film wouldn’t be much of a financial risk. As such, De Laurentiis felt comfortable leaving Lynch to his own devices. Lynch responded by delivering a masterpiece.