Remembering Dino, from Mangano to “Mandingo”

Written by Film

“No one cry when Jaws die. But when the monkey die, people gonna cry.” Film Editor Bob Cashill rewinds the hits and misses of the legendary Dino De Laurentiis.

What does a film producer do? He makes movies, all kinds of movies. Dino De Laurentiis was the producer’s producer, an archetype, a stereotype, a self-parody. The last of his kind? Certainly a legend of a sort. Let’s review.

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1949: Neorealism + sex appeal = Bitter Rice. De Laurentiis takes home a tasty dish in star Silvano Mangano, his wife of many years.

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1954: He and Carlo Ponti win Oscars for producing Fellini’s classic La Strada.

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1956: Thinking big, De Laurentiis tries to storm the world with Napoleonic force with War and Peace. Henry Fonda in a black crepe-paper wig complicates the goal.

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1961: Tolstoy, schmolstoy. De Laurentiis gave the audience what it wanted, and if it wanted muscleman Gordon Scott in Goliath and the Vampires, so be it.

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1966: Another big one: The Bible: In the Beginning…. Adapted from the IMDb: “Robert Bresson (Pickpocket, A Man Escaped) was hired in 1964 by De Laurentiis as director. When he shot his first scene (the deluge) he requested the use of all the animals in the Rome city zoo. The producers complied, but upon checking the daily rushes saw that the only thing Bresson filmed was the tracks of the animals upon a sandy beach. They were furious and Bresson was fired. John Huston took over the project, delaying production a further six months.” Planned sequels went unfilmed.

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1968: De Laurentiis gets down and swings with the 60s. I love Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik, with its catchy Ennio Morricone score…

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…and so do the Beastie Boys, who based their “Body Movin'” video on it. Meanwhile…

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Audiences grooved on Jane Fonda as Barbarella, “who makes science fiction special!” A psychotronic year for De Laurentiis and John Phillip Law, who was in both.

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1975: Two years later an audience sensitized by Roots might have rioted against the hot-blooded slavery saga Mandingo. But it was a hit, still polarizing and confounding 35 years later (and on DVD). Imagine seeing a TV spot like this today.

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1976: Time magazine interview before his blockbuster remake. “No one cry when Jaws die. But when the monkey die, people gonna cry. Intellectuals gonna love Konk; even film buffs who love the first Konk gonna love ours. Why? Because I no give them crap. I no spend two, three million to do quick business. I spend 24 million on my Konk. I give them quality. I got here a great love story, a great adventure. And she rated PG. For everybody.”

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1986: King Kong Lives. No one cry when the monkey die again. Nobody see Konk.

2001: De Laurentiis receives the Irving Thalberg Award at the Oscars. Critics attribute seismic activity in the region to Thalberg, who does not have Orca, Maximum Overdrive, or the Razzie-nominated Year of the Dragon on his resume, rolling in his grave. But consider:

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Blue Velvet (1986)

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Manhunter (1986)

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“You can’t love cinema if you can’t appreciate Flash Gordon (1980)”–Bob Cashill, Film Editor, Popdose

RIP Dino De Laurentiis. Showman.