Dino De Laurentiis RIP
On the heels of Ennio Morricone’s birthday comes the news that fellow Italian film compatriot Dino De Laurentiis has passed through the curtained veil at the spry age of 92. A legend among old-school producers who combined taste and trash, he gained fame for producing Fellin’s LA STRADA (1954) and his eclectic output is arguably unmatched. We all love him for putting Mario Bava, John Phillip Law and Morricone together for the smashing pop-art comic book, DANGER: DIABOLIK (1967) and for letting Roger Vadim shoot Jane Fonda nude in outer space in BARBARELLA just to do her thing.
We’re not such fans of his infamous KING KONG (1976), even though it had a huge advertising campaign with non-stop commercials, toys and t-shirts, the Reeses-like candy, and the tagline above that made me laugh since this “most exciting original motion picture” was a remake. As an early stop-motion nerd, I was stupefied they would use a guy in a monkey suit — even if that guy was the brilliant Rick Baker, who played Kong and designed its superb, expressive, scary face. Jim Danforth resigned his membership from the Academy when KING KONG was nominated for a special effects award due to the silly life-sized Kong that was used for a few laughable shots. Still, I was there opening day and even enjoyed the film on a primal level thanks to John Barry’s ominous score, the Lorenzo Semple script dripping with 70’s cynicism, well-played by Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin, and the debut of the nubile Jessica Lange. And KING KONG is rather frightening in certain scenes up until the tragic climax of the beast atop the World Trade Center, a genuine iconic poster image.
De Laurentiis didn’t always make great films — read editor Sam O’Steen’s awesome book where he goes into explicit details about the travails of HURRICANE (1979); then there’s his repeated attempts at another JAWS with ORCA (1977) and WHITE BUFFALO (1977), but he did take chances on films like SERPICO, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, BLUE VELVET, and yes, EVIL DEAD 2. Let us not forget the wacky FLASH GORDON (1980). De Laurentiis even once turned up at Rocket Video with his lovely daughter, and I had just popped in to browse. It wasn’t a large crowd; Dino’s entourage seemed larger, but it was lively and instead of joining in, I went through the rows of VHS and DVD, counting off films he had produced, awed by the fact that a man who worked with Fellini, Antonioni, Bergman, Bava, Morricone and my pal John Law, was only a few feet away, that I felt I already knew him. Ciao!