Sergio Leone

Birthday: Jan 3, 1929
Birthplace: Rome, Italy
Scion of movie actress Francesca Bertini and pioneering Italian director Vincenzo Leone (aka Roberto Roberti), Sergio Leone merged his movie-made dreams of America with his own brand of epic myth-making to create a quartet of 1960s Westerns so exceptional that they earned their own generic moniker. Though initially derided as nihilistically violent spaghetti Westerns, A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) galvanized the floundering genre, turning Leone into an international directorial star. Following his spectacular iron horse opera Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), however, Leone directed only two more movies before his death in 1989. Though he helmed a mere seven films, Leone's enormous influence was apparent from the late '60s onward, from Sam Peckinpah, John Woo, Quentin Tarantino, and of course Clint Eastwood, who dedicated his Unforgiven (1992) "To Sergio and Don." Born and raised in Rome, Leone adored Hollywood movies as a child. Despite his father's insistence that he study law, Leone began a parallel education in filmmaking at age 18 through family connections. After working on several films, including Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1947), Leone quit school to pursue a movie career full time. Leone worked as an assistant director on the Hollywood spectacles Quo Vadis? (1951), Ben-Hur (1959), and Sodom and Gomorrah (1961). Leone got his first shot at directing when he took over The Last Days of Pompeii (1959) from ailing mentor Mario Bonnard, and earned his first "directed by" credit with The Colossus of Rhodes (1960). Leone found his next project after seeing Akira Kurosawa's samurai film Yojimbo. Leone adapted Yojimbo as a low-budget Western to be shot in Spain. Low on the list of possible Americans to play Leone's Magnificent Stranger was a TV actor whom Leone cast more out of financial necessity than desire; and his composer, one-time schoolmate Ennio Morricone, made do with limited orchestra access. The result, re-titled A Fistful of Dollars (1964), turned out to be a wildly popular re-imagining of the hallowed Western myths, centering on a bloody conflict involving rival families and a sly gunslinger. Peppered with widescreen close-ups transforming faces into craggy "landscapes," and accompanied by a bizarre soundtrack of surf guitar, sound effects, and folk instruments, Fistful did away with the hoary sentiment, pastoral settings, and recent neurosis of Hollywood oaters. Though they would feud later over credit for their singularly accessorized gunfighter, Leone and Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name became an indelible portrait of taciturn skill, humor, and pragmatic brutality. A hit in Italy, Fistful inspired scores of spaghetti Westerns but few had the personal obsessions with prior movie myth-making that gave Leone's genre pictures artistic heft. Though the U.S. release of Fistful was delayed by rights problems over Yojimbo, its European run was so successful that Leone was pushed to quickly make a sequel. Puckishly titled For a Few Dollars More (1965), Leone and co-writer Luciano Vincenzoni expanded the ironic view of the West in a story involving two bounty hunters and a psychotic stoner bandit. For a Few Dollars More paired Eastwood's bounty-hunting Man with Lee Van Cleef, whose personal motivation for his mercenary violence is revealed aurally through Morricone's textured score and visually in flashbacks that lead up to the climactic "corrida" showdown with Gian Maria Volonté's bandit. For a Few Dollars More broke box-office records in Italy, paving the way for the even more expansive sequel The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). A Civil War epic starring Eastwood, Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach in the respective title roles, The Good's quest for gold included numerous dark jokes, venal ruses, and an elaborate bridge explosion on the way to the famously dramatic, three-way graveyard showdown. Yet another hit, The Good, the Bad and the

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