The Way of the Word

11. November 2010

RIP Dino De Laurentiis

Born August 8, 1919 as Agostino de Laurentiis in Torre Annunziata (Italy), died November 11, 2010 in Los Angeles at age 91.

Like a lot of these obituaries that I post here, this came as something of a shock. For one thing, I had no idea he was even still alive. Then again, since he was a producer, he was more behind the scenes, with the actors and directors hogging the spotlight of his films.

His biography indicates a man who always knew exactly what he wanted, and who went about to get it. He dropped out of school at the age of 17 because he wanted to work in the movie business, and had his first acting role in a movie in 1938: Il grandi magazzini. During WW2, he served in the Italian army, afterwards he started to produce movies. His first credit as a producer was the Aquila Nera (1946). His first international success was the 1949 Riso amaro (Bitter Rice), directed by Guiseppe de Santis. The same year, he married the Italian actress Silvia Mangano, a marriage that was to last until her death in 1989.

He joined forces with fellow Italian producer Carlo Ponti, and together they produced several prestigious films. Most notably La Strada (directed by Federico Fellino and starring Anthony Quinn), which won several international awards, including the Oscar. Together, the two also produced the first Italian movie in color. De Laurentiis and Ponti broke up because De Laurentiis had a taste for huge blockbusters that Ponti didn’t quite share in this way.

And boy, did he produce them. Some bombed, inevitably, such as Hurricane, or Tai Pan, or the 1976 King Kong remake, or Maximum Overdrive. But whether they were bombs or hits, or controversial, or attracted a cult following, or became critical darlings, they always, always attracted attention.

I mean, I’m sure you’ve heard of at least some of these (in no particular order):

Barbarella, Flash Gordon, Conan the Barbarian, Death Wish, Orca, Hannibal, Hannibal Rising, Army of Darkness, Dune, The Last Legion, Danger: Diabolik, Ragtime…

And those are only a very few, which he produced after he moved from Italy to Hollywood. De Laurentiis went bankrupt a couple of times. His companies went out of business. But he never stopped making movies. His six children are also in various ways associated with the movie business. Most notably his daughter Rafaella, who is almost as famous a producer as Dino.

My own view of De Laurentiis films was that they were upscale B-List. The production values were usually not first rate. It was usually visible that the production had to remember their budgets. What they did have, always, was spectacle. Show. Grandeur.

In a word: fun.

Looking back, it seems clear that the artistic leanings of the movies he made before relocating to Hollywood were not so much his doing but rather that of his partner, Carlo Ponti. Granted, some of the movies he made after separating from Ponti and before going to Hollywood try to combine the best of both worlds: art and spectacle.

His last movie was 2007’s Virgin Territory, a romantic comedy based on the classic Decameron, starring Hayden Christensen and Misha Barton. That and the fact that it went straight to DVD in the US should tell you all you need to know about it. So let’s rather consider The Last Legion (also 2007) , which was much more of a success, De Laurentii’s last movie, okay?

I look at the list of the movies he produced, and I am shocked, shocked I say, at how many of them I have seen. At how many of them I have among my DVDs. Of course I haven’t always enjoyed the movies he made. But usually, yes, I did. I for one will definitely miss the particular brand of over-the-top craziness that his movies usually had.

De Laurentii’s took creative risks. That’s why his companies failed several times. But he always came back, and did the same as before: think big, take chances, be a little bit off-beat. So what if his movies failed? If they did, they failed spectacularly. And even many of the failures live on as cult hits. I’ll bet they’ll be remembered when the last 10 years of Hollywood remakes will be long forgotten. Today’s Hollywood suits should look at De Laurentiis’s resume and learn from it: it’s good to take risks, it’s good to be creative, and if you fail, you can rebuild from the goodwill that your creativity has earned you.

Rest in peace, Dino De Laurentiis. You will be missed, not in the least because there is no real worthy successor.



  1. He looked pretty freaky in that pic, like a Star Trek alien of some kind. Not that that’s in any way relevant.

    I agree about how many movies he was behind that I’ve seen and enjoyed.

    Comment by Anders Gabrielsson — 11. November 2010 @ 20:35

  2. He looked even freakier in other pictures that I found. I guess it’s one of the things that happen with age.

    Come to think, he was behind some of the earliest Schwarzenegger movies. The two Conans, and Raw Deal. It could be said that he’s as much responsible for Arnold’s career as Jim Cameron.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 11. November 2010 @ 20:57

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