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!

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10 Responses to “Dino De Laurentiis RIP”

  1. One the last great movie moguls. He really ran the spectrum of cinema, backing both artsy fartsy films and commercial schlock. He will always have a soft spot with me for taking a chance on David Lynch after DUNE bombed and giving him a meager budget but total creative control on BLUE VELVET, still his best film, IMO.

    • Absolutely. And he funded EVIL DEAD 2 on Stephen King’s recommendation since he was producing MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE…I agree that BLUE VELVET is Lynch’s masterpiece among a few.

  2. aw, i hadn’t even heard about his passing, one of the great, larger than life personalities of the film industry. 92 isn’t a bad innings, DDL certainly made his mark and will be remembered fondly for both his hits and misses. RIP mr. de laurentiis.

    • Isn’t a bad innings? Never heard that one before…

      • oh, it’s a cricket term that has bled over into (queen’s english) speech meaning ‘a good run’, that sort of thing (or is ‘a good run’ also a cricket term? the irony is, i hate cricket!). at any rate 92 yrs is a doing well, i bet DDL had a fascinating life and we we lucky to have him.

  3. When the Jaws die, nobody cry…but when Dino die, people gonna cry!

    (Sorry.)

    I have a soft spot for KONG. What can I say, it’s the nostalgia factor. Obviously, the original is still the best, but at least Dino’s version is an hour shorter than P.J.’s., and gave Jeff Bridges a Lebowski practice run.

    BLUE VELVET? Was that the one about the horse with Liz Taylor?

    RIP.

  4. If you didn’t say it Frank I would have…

    It’s interesting about KK that Bridges was in that netherworld of being a lead actor but not quite a movie star yet.

  5. The very first thing that popped into my head when I heard the news — “Nobody a cry when a Jaws die, but everybody a gonna cry when a my Konk die.” As noted above, I wasn’t the only one.

    I worked in a little one-screen theater in Doraville, GA & Dino’s “King Kong” was our big Christmas release. I spent a lot of time with that film and I, too, have fond memories of it maybe because of nostalgia or maybe because of Jessica Lange. Woof!

    Vaya con dios, Dino.

    • How did the film do in the theater? The film was a box office hit if not JAWS level smash…and of course, we all recall the TIME Magazine cover with Jessica Lange and some revealing stills inside….

      • It was a smash hit although you could sense a little disappointment when audiences realized that they did not get “the most original motion picture event of all time” but a giant mechanical monkey instead. Still, it was a picture that, for the most part, played well to crowds and it looked fantastic on the big screen (except for some of the mechanical monkey shots).

        I was still working at the same theater about six months later when we did book “the most original motion picture event of all time” aka “Star Wars”. I ran THAT thing for six solid months with an entire summer (& more) of sold out shows all day & night.

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