Saturday, July 31, 2010

Once Upon a Time


The cigar smoking fellow above is one Sergio Leone, and today is not his birthday. July has been full of hero less days, and I figure it is fitting that the last day of July is hero less as well. Mr. Leone was born January 3rd, 1929 in Rome, Italy. He was born the son of a film director, and an actress of the silent film era, so I guess it was only natural that he would end up in the film industry. He shares a similar trait of many of my heroes, that is he dropped his study of law in order to go into show business. I guess that just reinforces the idea that being a lawyer is not a lot of fun.

His first film was "The Last Days of Pompeii" when he was asked to fill in for director Mario Bonnard, who had become seriously ill. He finished that film, and then two years later, got his first solo directing job. But it was his third film that was to launch his career in a big way, and provides the beginnings of the reason he is our hero of the day. It was 1964's "A Fistful of Dollars", and it is the first of his "Dollars" trilogy, and it was the film that made Clint Eastwood a major star. He did manage to get his ass sued for this film, because it was pretty much a shot by shot remake of "Yojimob" by Kurosawa. I figure if you going to rip somebody off you could do a lot worse than ripping off Kurosawa.

The film, and the other two of the "Dollars" trilogy, "For a Few Dollars More", and "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" were groundbreaking in the western genre. Before Leone, characters in westerns always were perfectly turned out, clean cut, and the good guy wore a white hat, the bad guy wore black." Leone's westerns changed all of that, take a look at the characters in these films. They all could use a bath, a shave, a haircut, and would do a chain gang proud. They sweat, they curse, and you can never be sure if there is a hero among them at all. My perfect example is the "Blondie" character in "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly." Blondie is labeled as "the Good," but he shoots at innocent people, he helps Tuco engage in a money making scheme that is pretty much strong arm robbery, and he is certainly not above taking anything he needs. Rather ironic that it took an Italian who only ever said "Good Bye" in English (he spoke through a translator to his actors on the set) to give an whole new meaning to the Old West, and change the ideal of the American cowboy.

He was notoriously difficult to work with on the set, Clint Eastwood referred to him as "Yosemite Sam" because of his quick temper, and he has been blamed in part for the suicide of actor Al Mulock, who jumped from his hotel room to his death while still in costume (Leone was supposedly quoted as saying "don't forget the costume!" as Mulock was taken to the hospital). He was also a compulsive eater, and by the time of his death had become quite a tub. After the Dollars trilogy, he did 5 more films, including "Once Upon a Time in the West" (now regarded by many as his best film), and "Once Upon a Time in America" (which, due to ruthless editing was a commercial flop, showing us that even heroes can fail), his last film.

It was that compulsive eating that was to do him in, he died of a heart attack at 60, days before the contracts on what was to be his next film (a war epic about the siege of Leningrad) were signed. It all he made only 11 films, but in that group are some damn fine films and it is for those films that Sergio Leone (January 3rd, 1929-April 30th, 1989, at the age of 60) you are my (345th) hero of the day.

1 comment:

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