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Dino De Laurentiis: For Decades, A Big-Picture Guy

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Dino De Laurentiis: For Decades, A Big-Picture Guy


Dino De Laurentiis: For Decades, A Big-Picture Guy

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Long-time movie producer Dino De Laurentiis has died. He was 91. His pictures ranged from Oscar winners to exploitation films, Fellini's "La Strada" to "Conan the Barbarian."

De Laurentiis began his career in Italy during World War II. He moved to Hollywood in the 1970s and ultimately produced more than 160 films.

Bob Mondello offers this remembrance.

BOB MONDELLO: Start with a list, just a few of the dozens of directors Dino De Laurentiis created films with: Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, John Huston, Roberto Rossellini, King Vidor, Robert Altman, a pair of influential Sidneys -Lumet and Pollack - and a pair of seriously weird Davids - horror director David Cronenberg and "Blue Velvet" director David Lynch.

What kind of movies did the brash, cigar-chomping De Laurentiis actually like? It sometimes seemed there wasn't a kind he didn't like.

(Soundbite of movie, "King Kong")

MONDELLO: The 1970s remake of "King Kong" was widely dismissed as commercial junk, as were some other potboilers De Laurentiis made after arriving in Hollywood: Charles Bronson shoot-em-ups, Stephen King horror flicks, the trashy plantation melodrama "Mandingo." But the filmmaker never worried much what critics thought, as he told NPR in 2002.

(Soundbite of archived NPR broadcast)

Mr. DINO DE LAURENTIIS (Movie Producer): The audience want to be attracted not by the critics. The audience want to be attracted by a great story. The audience - you must deliver to the audience emotion. And when I say emotion, I mean suspense, drama, love.

MONDELLO: And stars. Lots of stars. In the 1950s, De Laurentiis paid top dollar to recruit some of America's brightest lights for his European epics - Henry Fonda and Audrey Hepburn for "War and Peace," Kirk Douglas for "Ulysses" and Anthony Quinn for a little Fellini oddity about traveling circus performers.

(Soundbite of movie, "La Strada")

Mr. ANTHONY QUINN (Actor): (as Zampano) (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Woman (Actress): (as character) (Foreign language spoken)

MONDELLO: Fellini's "La Strada" won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1957. And the following year, without so much as telling the director, De Laurentiis re-cut his "Nights of Cabiria," the source material for the musical "Sweet Charity." His version won Fellini another Oscar.

By the early 1960s, the producer was working from his own studio in Rome, churning out eight to 10 films a year - Italian ones for local distribution and more ambitious international fare for world markets, including the battlefield drama "Anzio" with Robert Mitchum and the sci-fi spoof "Barbarella" with Jane Fonda.

(Soundbite of movie, "Barbarella")

Ms. JANE FONDA (Actress): (as Barbarella) Pygar.

Unidentified Man (Actor): (as character) Don't be concerned, my child. You'll see him again soon enough.

(Soundbite of screaming)

MONDELLO: In the 1970s, De Laurentiis moved to the U.S., first establishing a foothold with tense thrillers - "Serpico," "Death Wish," "Three Days of the Condor" - then using the profits they earned to make prestige projects like "Ragtime." But for every well-received movie, he seemed to make two trashier ones - "Orca, The Killer Whale," "Hurricane," the science fiction disaster "Dune."

His successes allowed him to build a film studio in the Carolinas. His failures forced him to sell the studio, so he could finance more pictures. Always, though, he was the same scrappy, cinema-crazed showman who'd scraped together every cent he had in 1940 to rent a flashy car and convince his first financial backer he had the moxie to make a movie. Brashness worked early on for Dino De Laurentiis, and it kept on working for more than six decades.

I'm Bob Mondello.

BLOCK: You can see a slide show of the filmmaker and images from some of his movies at our website,

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