Sergio Leone at American Cinematheque

Born into a filmmaking family, Italian director Sergio Leone (1929 – 1989) was one of the great personalities of world cinema. Leone entered the business as a teenager, laboring as an assistant director, screenwriter and bit player. While employed as an assistant director on THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII in 1959, Leone found himself thrust into the director’s chair halfway through production when the original director became too ill to continue. It wasn’t long afterward that Leone received his first credited director’s job on the sword-and-sandal opus COLOSSUS OF RHODES in 1961.

In 1964, inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO and the newly burgeoning spaghetti western craze, Leone helmed A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, which starred then virtually unknown American TV actor Clint Eastwood. The picture proved a mega-hit in Europe and did well enough in the States to encourage United Artists to release its sequel, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965), which fared even better and paved the way for the majestically gritty masterpiece and conclusion of the trilogy, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966). These three nihilistic, ultra-violent horse operas revolutionized the genre and forever cemented Leone’s trademark visual style of epic vistas punctuated by claustrophobic close-ups.

Leone followed the Eastwood films with his operatic masterwork ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968), and the tragicomic chronicle of the Mexican revolution, DUCK YOU SUCKER (1972). It wasn’t until 1984 that the movie-going public was able to view his next directorial effort, a visually stunning magnum opus about Prohibition-era Jewish gangsters in New York, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, starring Robert De Niro. Sadly, it turned out to be the maestro’s swan song. Sergio Leone died of a heart attack in 1989.
Thursday, July 24 – 7:30 PM
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (IL BUONO, IL BRUTTO, IL CATTIVO), 1966, MGM Repertory, 161 min. Sergio Leone’s surreal masterpiece of the American West during the last days of the Civil War follows a trio of equally violent and unrepentant gunslingers (Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef) who engage in a jaw-dropping series of double-and triple-crosses to get their hands on a fortune in stolen Confederate gold.

Friday, July 25 – 7:30 PM
Double Feature:
A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (PER UN PUGNO DE DOLLARI), 1964, MGM Repertory, 99 min. Director Sergio Leone remade Akira Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO with Clint Eastwood as a poncho-wearing, cheroot-chewing gunman, and wound up with the most revolutionary western of the 1960s (aided by composer Ennio Morricone’s instantly memorable theme music). Co-starring the great Italian actor Gian Maria Volonte (INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION) as Eastwood’s nemesis.
FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (PER QUALCHE DOLLARO IN PIU), 1965, MGM Repertory, 130 min. Sergio Leone’s sequel to FISTFUL stars Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef as rival bounty hunters who wind up tracking the same man (Gian Maria Volonte.) The final three-way shootout ranks with the greatest set pieces in movie-making history. Keep your eyes peeled for Klaus Kinski as a hot-tempered hunchback.

Saturday, July 26 – 7:30 PM
Fully, Newly Restored Print! ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (C’ERA UNA VOLTA IL WEST), 1968, Paramount, 165 min. Charles Bronson is a soft-spoken, harmonica-playing gunslinger bent on revenge against brutal assassin Henry Fonda. Co-starring Claudia Cardinale as an independent-minded mail-order bride and Jason Robards as a wry bandido with an agenda of his own. With great supporting turns by Frank Wolff, Gabriele Ferzetti, Jack Elam, Keenan Wynn, Woody Strode and Lionel Stander. Mind-bendingly expansive in scope and visual beauty. Co-written by Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci! Note: This is a rare print of the full-length, director’s cut version of the film.

Sunday, July 27 – 7:30 PM
ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, 1984, Warner Bros., 229 min. Childhood friends Robert De Niro and James Woods rise to power as New York gangsters during the glory years of Prohibition, only to lose their souls in the process. Leone’s last, and perhaps greatest, masterpiece features a stellar supporting cast, including Elizabeth McGovern, Treat Williams, Tuesday Weld, Joe Pesci, Burt Young, Danny Aiello and William Forsythe, as well as the debut of Jennifer Connelly.

Wednesday, July 30 – 7:30 PM
DUCK YOU SUCKER aka A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE (GIU LA TESTA), 1971, MGM Repertory, 138 min. The last — and least-seen — of Sergio Leone’s epic westerns: Earthy peasant Rod Steiger and Irishman James Coburn (hiding from the I.R.A.) find themselves tossed into the middle of the Mexican Revolution. Widely ignored on its release, DUCK YOU SUCKER looks better and better with each year: Leone’s blend of explosive action and boozy poetry is just strange enough to work. Music by Ennio Morricone.


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