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5 Unmade Movies From Spaghetti Western Maestro Sergio Leone

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist April 30, 2012 at 12:58PM

For someone who's considered one of the greatest filmmakers in history, Sergio Leone was not especially prolific. While he was a prolific 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").
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Richard Gere Mickey Rourke

"A Place Only Mary Knows"
After "Once Upon A Time In America" was released, Leone started to plan a possible TV series, "Colt," partly inspired by "Winchester '73," which would involve the titular revolver passing through a series of characters in the Old West. However, another project soon took precedence: "A Place Only Mary Knows." The film, co-written with his assistant director Luca Morsella and Fabio Toncelli, would have marked a return to the Western genre, set during the American Civil War, and following a Union soldier and a Southern drifter looking for treasure together. The film got as far as casting, with Richard Gere and Mickey Rourke set to take on the lead roles, which were written for them. According to Frayling, Leone would have produced the film, rather than directed, but either way, it never happened. However, the full 25 page treatment was published in Italy's Ciak Magazine in 2004.

The Phantom

"The Phantom"
Comic book movies are all the rage nowadays, but Sergio Leone was well ahead of the game. In Italy and France, comics are much more mainstream than in the U.S., and Leone expressed interest in tackling the genre. He was offered the director's chair of "Flash Gordon" by Dino De Laurentiis, and though a fan of the character, he didn't like the script, and passed. However, he did begin work on a script for an adaptation of Lee Falk's classic pulp character "The Phantom," the mysterious, purple-costumed masked crime fighter, who first appeared in 1936, and still stars in a syndicated newspaper strip today. Leone even got as far as scouting locations, and suggested that he might follow the project with another character from the author, "Mandrake The Magician." But again, "Once Upon A Time In America" finally got in the way, and Leone's superheroic ambitions were never fulfilled, sadly leaving Simon Wincer's dreadful 1996 version, starring Billy Zane as the title character, as the major movie incarnation of the character (while Warner Bros only last month put a take on "Mandrake The Magician" into development at the studio.)

Leningrad

"Leningrad: The 900 Days"
While other projects came and went, there was one that Leone was working the most fervently on in the last years of his life, and one that came closest to production. And it's a film that would have seen him move into new territory: the war movie. While completing "Once Upon A Time In America, " Leone read Harrison Salisbury's "The 900 Days: The Siege Of Leningrad," a non-fiction tome that tells the story of one of the worst encounters on the Eastern Front in WWII, and soon started planning a film version. His film was to have been called "Leningrad: The 900 Days," and he intended to reunite with Robert De Niro, who would have played an American photographer who becomes trapped in the city when the Germans start bombing, falls in love with a Russian woman, and keeps the relationship hidden from the secret police, before dying on the day that the city was liberated. By 1989, Leone had raised a whopping $100 million from financiers (including Soviet sources), and had a number of key collaborators on board, including composer Ennio Morricone and DoP Tonino Delli Colli. The film was to have shot in 1990, but two days before he was meant to sign his contract, the director had a heart attack and died at the age of 60.

This article is related to: On This Day In Movie History, Features, Sergio Leone


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