Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Sergio Leone (January 3, 1929 – April 30, 1989) was an Italian film director. Born in Rome, he was the son of the cinema pioneer Vincenzo Leone and the actress Francesca Bertini, and started working in the film industry himself at the age of eighteen.
He began writing screenplays in the 1950s, primarily for the so-called "sword and sandal" or "peplum" historical epics which were popular at the time. He also worked as an assistant director on several large-scale, high-profile Hollywood productions, a.k.a. runaway productions , filmed at Cinecitta Studios in Rome, notably Quo Vadis (1951), and Ben-Hur (1959). As a result, when the time came to make his solo directoral debut with The Colossus of Rhodes (Il Colosso di Rodi) 1961, he was well equipped to produce low-budget films which looked and felt like Hollywood spectaculars.
In the early 1960s, demand for historical epics collapsed, and Leone was fortunate enough to be at the forefront of the genre which replaced it in the public's affections - the Western. His A Fistful of Dollars (Per un pugno di dollari) (1964) was an early trend-setter in a genre which came to be known as the "spaghetti western". Based closely enough on Akira Kurosawa's medieval samurai adventure Yojimbo (1961) to elicit a legal challenge from the Japanese director, the film is notable for its establishment of Clint Eastwood as a star. Until that time, he had been an American television actor with few roles to his name.
The look of the film was established partly by its budget, and partly by its Spanish locations, and it presented a gritty, violent, morally complex vision of the American West which paid tribute to traditional American Westerns, but significantly departed from them in storyline, plot, characterization and mood. Leone deservedly gets credit for one great breakthrough in the Western genre that is still followed today: in traditional Western films, heroes and villains alike looked like they had just stepped out of the fashion magazine and the moral opposites were clearly drawn, even down to the hero wearing a white hat and the villain wearing a black hat. Leone's characters were,in contrast, more "realistic" and complex: usually "lone wolves" in their behavior, they rarely shaved, looked dirty, and there was a strong suggestion of body odour, and a history of criminal behavior, they were morally ambiguous and often either generously compassionate or nakedly and brutally self-serving as the situation demanded. This sense of realism continues to affect Western movies today, and has also been influential outside this genre.
His next two films - For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) - completed what has come to be known as "The Dollars Trilogy", with each film being more financially successful and more technically proficient than its predecessor. All three films featured remarkable scores by the prolific composer Ennio Morricone.
Based on these successes, in 1967 he was invited to America to direct what he hoped would be his masterwork, Once Upon a Time in the West (C'era una volta il West) for Paramount. Filmed in Monument Valley, Utah as well as in Spain and Italy, and starring Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson and Claudia Cardinale it emerged as a long, violent, dreamlike meditation upon the mythology of the American West. It was scripted by Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento, both of whom went on to have significant careers as directors. Before its release, however, the film was ruthlessly edited by Paramount, which perhaps contributed to its poor box-office results, although it was a huge hit amongst film students, and has come to be regarded by many as Leone's best film.
After the relative failure of Once Upon a Time in the West, Leone directed A Fistful of Dynamite (1971), a satire starring James Coburn and Rod Steiger poking fun at the spaghetti western genre. He turned down the opportunity to direct The Godfather, but spent the next ten years building up to another epic work, this time focusing on a quartet of New York City gangsters of the 1920s and '30s who had been friends since childhood. This work, Once Upon a Time in America (1983), was a project he had conceived before Once Upon a Time in the West, a meditation on another aspect of popular American mythology, the role of greed and violence and their uneasy coexistence with the meaning of ethnicity and friendship, and like that film, it was too long and stately for the studio to stomach. The studio cut its four-hour running time drastically, losing much of the sense of the complex narrative. The recut version too flopped. At the time of his 1989 death, Leone was part way through planning yet another epic, this time on the Second World War battle for Leningrad.
- Il Colosso di Rodi (1960)
- A Fistful of Dollars (Per un pugno di dollari) (1964)
- For a Few Dollars More (Per qualche dollaro in piu) (1965)
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo) (1966)
- Once Upon a Time in the West (C'era una volta il West) (1968)
- A Fistful of Dynamite (Gił la testa) (1971)
- Once Upon a Time in America (C'era una volta in America) (1984)
See also: Other notable figures in Western films
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