For someone who's considered one of the greatest filmmakers in history, Sergio Leone was not especially prolific. While he worked extensively as an assistant director (with credits including "Bicycle Thieves," "Quo Vadis" and "Ben Hur"), he was only credited on seven films across his thirty-year career (with uncredited direction work on three others -- "The Last Days Of Pompeii," "My Name Is Nobody" and "A Genius, Two Partners and A Dupe").
But given that those films include some of the greatest Westerns -- the Man With No Name trilogy, and "Once Upon A Time In The West" -- and a wonderful crime epic, "Once Upon A Time In America," it's hard not to mourn that we didn't get more films from the director, who passed away 23 years ago today, on April 30th, 1989. But it wasn't for a lack of trying, as there were a number of other projects that Leone considered, turned down or couldn't get made over the years. To mark the occasion, we've rounded up five of the key Leone films-that-never-were (most of which you can read more about in Christopher Frayling's excellent biography "Something To Do With Death"), and you can find them below.
Francis Ford Coppola might have created one of the greatest movies ever made with his adaptation of Mario Puzo's best-seller "The Godfather," but he actually wasn't the first choice to take the director's chair. Producer Robert Evans was at first convinced that the material needed an Italian director, and offered it to Leone, who was finishing up his final Western, "A Fistful of Dynamite"/"Duck, You Sucker!" Leone considered it, but found that the material glorified the Mafia too much for his liking. Perhaps more importantly, he was already starting to develop his own crime flick, an adaptation of Harry Grey's "The Hoods." It would take another twelve years, but that film finally saw the light of day as "Once Upon A Time In America." "The Godfather" isn't the only classic that Leone flirted with. According to Christopher Frayling's biography "Something To Do With Death," Leone was a huge fan of "Gone With The Wind," and after "A Few Dollars More," considered directing a remake that would have been closer to Margaret Mitchell's source material. Around the same time, he was also considering an adaptation of Louis-Ferdinand Celine's beloved World War One-era novel "Journey To The End Of Night," but that never came to pass either.
Cervantes' literary classic "Don Quixote," about a deluded, elderly man who believes he's a knight, and his faithful squire Sancho Panza, has proven something of a white whale for filmmakers. Orson Welles tried to make it, Terry Gilliam got as far as shooting "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" before it famously collapsed, and he's still trying to get it made. Leone was another director who was planning a take, initially talking about it in the 1960s, and towards the end of his life, started seriously considering it again. And it's possible it might have reunited him with some old favorites as Frayling mentions that Clint Eastwood could have played Quixote, and Eli Wallach Sancho Panza. Leone got distracted with other projects (see below), and unfortunately passed away before it could become a reality.