This weekend’s death of Swedish-born screen sex siren Anita Ekberg (see our salute to her here) may have been the biggest show business obituary news, but here at MovieFanFare we felt the passing of two men best known for their work on the other side of the camera–Italian director Francesco Rosi and independent film producer Samuel Goldwyn, Jr., ages 92 and 88, respectively–deserve mention, as well.
A follower of the “neorealist” school of filmmaking that also inspired such colleagues as Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica, Francesco Rosi–born in Naples in 1922–began his cinema career as an assistant to Visconti on 1948’s La Terra Trema and 1952’s Senso (released in the U.S. as The Wanton Countess), and co-wrote the director’s 1951 picture Bellissima. Along with other scripting duties, his first directorial credit was as co-director of the 1952 historical drama Anita Garibaldi, with Raf Vallone and Anna Magnani. The 1958 effort La Sfida, Rosi’s first solo turn as director, was a true-life drama whose story of Mafia influence and government corruption would become a recurring theme in his work.
In the early 1960s his movies would take a more political tone and offer tough looks at Mafia life. Among them were 1962’s Salvatore Giuliano, a Sicilian gangster story told in flashbacks in a pseudo-documentary style; 1963’s Hands Over the City, starring Rod Steiger as a shady Naples building contractor; and the brutal bullfighting tale The Moment of Truth (1965). A departure came with the romantic, fairy tale-like More Than a Miracle (1967), featuring Omar Sharif as the handsome prince balking at an arranged marriage and Sophia Loren as the beautiful peasant woman he falls for.
Some of Rosi’s better known ’70s and ’80s works included 1970’s Uomini Contro (Many Wars Ago), a powerful depiction of life in the trenches during World War I; the true crime sagas The Mattei Affair (1972) and Lucky Luciano (1974); 1979’s Christ Stopped at Eboli, a biodrama about 1930s writer Carlo Levi, who was exiled for speaking out against Mussolini’s Fascist regime; and Three Brothers (1981), in which the very different title siblings return home for their mother’s funeral. Rosi also directed and co-wrote the 1984 film version of Bizet’s immortal opera Carmen, starring Julia Migenes as the infamous seductress and Placido Domingo as her soldier lover, Don José. His final film was 1997’s The Truce, which told the story of Italian Jewish author Primo Levi following his liberation from Auschwitz after World War II. Rosi died from complications from bronchitis in Rome on January 10.
When your dad’s the “G” in MGM, a life in the movies seems like a foregone conclusion. The son of the pioneering showman who gave the world Wuthering Heights, The Best Years of Our Lives, and such alleged sayings as “I don’t think anybody should write his autobiography until after he’s dead,” Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. was born in California in 1926 (his mother was actress Frances Howard). He began following in his father’s formidable footsteps, not in Hollywood, but in England working for J. Arthur Rank Productions. He was associate producer on the 1948 British drama Good-Time Girl, and later returned to America to continue in the business. His credits as producer included the Robert Mitchum western Man with the Gun (1955); The Proud Rebel (1958) with Alan Ladd; and the Peter Fonda drama The Young Lovers (1964), the last of which was Goldwyn’s sole turn as director.
In 1979 he founded his own production firm, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, which–along with obtaining the rights to many of his father’s pictures–was behind the U.S. distribution of such ’80s art house favorites as Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl and That Sinking Feeling, Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise, Sid and Nancy, Hollywood Shuffle, Mystic Pizza and Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V (plus such kids’ fare as The Care Bears Movie and The Chipmunk Adventure). The 1990s saw the release of the powerful AIDS drama Longtime Companion; Wild at Heart from David Lynch; Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing; the music documentary Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould; Eat Drink Man Woman by Ang Lee; and Big Night with Stanley Tucci and Tony Shaloub.
After the company (renamed Samuel Goldwyn Entertainment) was acquired by Orion Films in 1996 and MGM the following year, Goldwyn would go on to establish Samuel Goldwyn Films. The new venture’s releases would include the Oscar-nominated seafaring saga Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; the acclaimed documentaries What the Bleep Do We Know? and Super Size Me; and–one of their final efforts–the 2013 remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, with Ben Stiller (Samuel Goldwyn père produced the 1947 Danny Kaye original).
Samuel Goldwyn. Jr. died of heart failure on January 9 in Los Angeles. Among his four children are son John, also a film producer, and actor son Tony, who was the villain in Ghost and plays U.S. President Grant in the TV series Scandal.