You sometimes hear filmmakers described as “a director’s director.” Dino Di Laurentiis, who died yesterday at the age of 91, was a producer’s producer. In a career that spanned almost seventy years, he made every kind of movie imaginable, from arthouse classics to major blockbusters, from mainstream fare to quirky genre oddities, and worked with an impressive array of director’s from Federico Fellini to Michael Mann, Sidney Lumet to Milos Foreman.
For a comprehensive overview of his life, you can read The New York Times obit by Dave Kehr, but I’d recommend Jeffrey Wells’ take over at Hollywood Elsewhere, not because he has a particularly encyclopedic knowledge of the man but because he decided to bash his body of work in the obit — calling him “a primitive showman” with the “philosophy… of a wheeler-dealer” — which prompted an interesting discussion about De Laurentiis’ legacy and the ethics of obituary writing.
It’s hard to argue that Di Laurentiis’ record was perfect. He certainly was involved in his share of stinkers (if you’ve never seen his “Jaws” ripoff “Orca” keep it that way). But I look at his IMDb page and see a lot of great movies: “Serpicio,” “The Dead Zone,” La Strada,” “Blue Velvet,” “Army of Darkness,” Manhunter,” and “Conan the Barbarian,” which turned Arnold Schwarzenegger from a punchline into a movie star (Earlier today, Schwarzenegger tweeted “Dino De Laurentiis always said to have a great life you need 3 things: brain, heart, balls. Let me tell you, he had them all. I’ll miss him.”). Stay in Hollywood long enough, and you’re going to be responsible for some flops. But only someone with brain, heart, and balls could last so long in the movie business, and make so many memorable films.