Thursday, November 18, 2010

When his monkey die...: Deceased Artiste Dino De Laurentiis

One of the last of the great over-the-top, impresario-style movie producers, Dino De Laurentiis died last week at the age of 91. He had his name on some brilliant masterworks of cinema and some absolute garbage, but he kept busy until just a few years ago, and always tried to create a “spectacle” around his productions, especially his more ridiculous American movies.

De Laurentiis is perhaps best known among movie fans over here for a phrase he may or may not have actually said — if anyone has confirmation that he uttered it, please do pass it on. The phrase in question, referring to the 1976 remake of King Kong that he produced, was, “When my monkey die, everybody gonna cry!” Now, it’s certain that John Belushi spoke a phrase similar to that one in a Saturday Night Live sketch in which he played Dino, but I can’t verify exactly where or when De Laurentiis himself made the original remark. In any case, it stuck and has become part of the legend surrounding the movie, which was somehow perceived as a flop, but actually made quite a lot of money at the box office. Here is the trailer:

Here is a bonus: Funhouse friend Akira Fitton’s home-movie footage from the night that some 30,000 folks showed up at the World Trade Center to watch the shooting of the “death of Kong” scene. Check out the monkey-face etched in office lights on the side of one of the buildings:

King Kong was just one of many, many movies Dino D. produced from 1946 to 2007. He started out selling spaghetti (no joke) but acquired an international reputation when his production Bitter Rice (1949) with the “buxotic” Silvana Mangano (whom he married) became a worldwide hit. The film is corny but still has a nice seething sexuality that is displayed when Ms. Mangano dances:

Or when its female cast wades in the water to perform their labors:

The film includes a muddy group catfight. This version of that scene demonstrates a rather annoying characteristic of films dubbed for the Russian market (I believe it’s Russian being spoken): instead of doing an actual dubbing job, they retain one gentleman to simply recite the dialogue in Russian *over* the original soundtrack!

De Laurentiis opened a studio a studio he called “Dinocitta” (after “Cinecitta”) as he produced a number of films that became critical and popular favorites around the world, with and without his producing partner Carlo Ponti. Among the biggest hits were Fellini’s La Strada and the Sophia Loren starrer Gold of Naples (both 1954). One of my personal faves (yes, even more than La Strada) was Nights of Cabiria (1957), which has one of the finest Fellini finales (and an excellent Nino Rota score):

Other Sixties De Laurentiis hits included the comedy Mafioso (1962) and the impressively flashy Mario Bava picture Danger: Diabolik (1968). Check out the Telly Savalas-narrated trailer (“He robs from the rich to give to the girls!”):

One of the most notable De Laurentiis pics during the Sixties was the campy-but-not-as-perfectly-kinky-or-funny-as-it-should-be Barbarella (1968):

In the Seventies, De Laurentiis produced a few “naturalistic” American dramas, among them the great Sidney Lumet film Serpico (1973):

Among other good Seventies De Laurenttiis productions was Crazy Joe (1974) with the always superb (and king of all Joes) Peter Boyle, and Altman’s very underrated box-office flop Buffalo Bill and the Indians (1976). Here is an extremely short trailer for the latter:

The Seventies was also a time of pure schlock for De Laurentiis, with Mandingo (1975), Orca (1977), Flash Gordon (1980), and the wonderfully sleazy rape thriller Lipstick (1976) starring Margaux and Mariel Hemingway. The whole film is up on YouTube (or the majority of the film — the rape scene most obviously keeps being taken down):

One of the interesting latter-day “art” productions from De Laurentiis was the uneven but still very evocative The Serpent’s Egg (1978) from Bergman:

The Eighties and Nineties found De Laurentiis producing a bunch of big-budget, over-the-top pics, including Conan the Destroyer, David Lynch’s Dune (both 1984), Michael Cimino’s bombastic Year of the Dragon (1985) and pointless Desperate Hours (1990), as well as the Silence of the Lambs sequel and prequel Hannibal (2001) and Red Dragon (2002), as well as the pre-prequel Hannibal Rising (2007). The finest thing he was associated with in the latter part of his career was undoubtedly Blue Velvet (1986), which was shot at his DEG studios.

I will forego musing about whether or not “everybody cry” when Dino D. died.

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