Legendary Italian producer Dino de Laurentis passed away Thursday in Los Angeles, at the age of 91. He died at his home in Beverly Hills, surrounded by family, and the memory of films both good and very, very bad.
His filmography at imdb.com reads like an arrest warrant from the Bad Movie Police, along with a smattering of excellent, even legendary titles. De Laurentis was a driven craftsman and consummate businessman who produced everything from TV movies to Hollywood blockbusters, from the hilariously cheesy 1976 “King Kong” to the sublime 1986 “Manhunter” and its high-profile 2002 remake, “Red Dragon.” He won an Oscar with Fellini for “La Strada” in 1956, and also provided material for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew to make fun of. This was a man who gave us Richard Harris chasing a killer whale, and James Cagney’s final big-screen performance.
De Laurentis was a hands-on producer, late into his very long life. He didn’t just arrange financing and yell at his directors for going over-budget. He gave his directors some amazing tools to play with. Some of them used those tools without safety goggles. He talked the Italian government into subsidizing a massive studio in Rome that came to be known as “Dino City,” and later bankrupted his production company filming the un-filmable Dune. Variety points out that his highly successful Italian productions were financed from his own pocket. He certainly had his share of business failures, but he intimately understood his business.
Culturally, much of De Laurentis’ work has significance for conservatives. He put John Huston, Ava Gardner, and Peter O’Toole into a big-budget retelling of the book of Genesis, and gave us Anthony Quinn as Barabbas. He also made a movie about Goliath fighting vampires, one of the more obscure stories from the Bible. He produced “Death Wish,” the Charles Bronson movie often cited as a factor in changing public attitudes about crime in the Seventies. De Laurentis produced some gripping films about World War II, from “Anzio” in 1968 to “U-571” in 2000. Granted, the British really got the shaft in “U-571” as they were replaced by Americans, but on the other hand, de Laurentis could sell American films to foreign audiences without airbrushing the Americans out of them – a distressing Hollywood trend these days.
You can’t review the incredibly long career of Dino de Laurentis without mentioning the bad movies. If you have a really awful guilty-pleasure movie, the odds are good he was the producer. He was able to push “bad” until it Doppler-shifted into “awesome.” “Flash Gordon,” “Army of Darkness,” “Silver Bullet,” “Conan the Destroyer,” “King Kong” and its sequel… and of course “Dune,” arguably the most bizarre spectacle ever presented to audiences as an A-list picture. For the record, Frank Herbert, the author of “Dune,” liked the movie.
His parents made pasta, but Dino De Laurentis became a legend for making both fine cinematic wine, and cheese. Rest in peace, maestro.