Sergio Leone was born 90 years ago

Sergio Leone on the set of Once Upon a Time in America
Sergio Leone on the set of Once Upon a Time in America

Sergio Leone was born on January 3, 1929 in Rome, Italy. His first experiences related to cinema were also as an extra actor but already in the 1940s he started working as an assistant director or director of the second unit, often without being credited, somtimes in major productions such as “Bicycle Thieves”, “Quo Vadis” and “Ben-Hur”, and as a screenwriter. In the case of “The Last Days of Pompeii” he took over from director Mario Bonnard, who is the still credited for the job.

The experience accumulated with the so-called sword-and-sandals or perplum allowed Sergio Leone to make his official debut as a director with “The Colossus of Rhodes” (1961). That type of movie went out of fashion at the beginning of the decade so Leone decided to try the western genre, interpreting it in a personal way that led to the birth of the subgenre called spaghetti western. “For a Fistful of Dollars” (1964) launched Clint Eastwood’s cinema career and marked the beginning of his collaboration with Ennio Morricone, who started producing the soundtracks of his movies. It was followed by the movies that form with it the so-called Man with No Name trilogy: “For a Few Dollars More” (1964) and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” of 1966.

“Once Upon a Time in the West” (1967) in Sergio Leone’s plans was supposed to be his last western but ended up also shooting “Duck, You Sucker!”, also known as “A Fistful of Dynamite” or “Once Upon a Time… the Revolution” (1971), for which he received the David of Donatello as best director. Of both movies he was also at least partly the screenwriter.

In the following years, Sergio Leone still worked as a screenwriter and started producing films shot by other directors but that wasn’t the end of his career as a director as he continued shooting commercials as well. Already in the 1960s, he had started developing a completely different project, a gangster story that became “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984), for which he won the Italian Nastro d’Argento (Silver Ribbon) as best director.

Sergio Leone died on April 30, 1989 of a heart attack. With a few movies he changed western cinema going far beyond the stereotypes of the genre adding a remarkable realism, up to adding in his last movies also social and political elements that generated some controversy. His legacy is important and remains alive.


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