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on 2 April 2000
This book, the first biography of Leone, features at its core the connection between Leone's life and career with that of the Italian film industry and Italian society. Leone was born and raised within showbusiness and here Frayling documents how this informed Leone and vice versa. Frayling also makes us reconsider the popular misconception that people have about Leone's personality; he was not the larger than life character most thought but instead deeply uncertain of himself and his talent. It becomes apparent as one reads that much of Leone's legendary ferocity and meaness stemmed from him trying to overcompensate for his own self-doubt.
Frayling manages to celebrate the great man's achievements without ever resorting to writing a hagiography. To sum up this is one the finest modern film biographies and absolute essential for any fan of Leone.
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on 27 April 2000
Prof. Frayling has written the first - and most likely definitive - account of Leone's life. It is everything that a fan could want, casting light on the conception and gestation of his films and offering generous insight into them.
This is no hagiography; Frayling (very gently) deflates the myth that Leone created about himself to produce a book which informs, enlightens and entertains.
It goes without saying that this is an essential purchase for anyone who loves Spaghetti Westerns and the work of Il Maestro.
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on 14 February 2001
This is the definitive Leone biography. Meticulously researched with access to the key players either directly or through secondary sources. Particularly worthy of mention is the way the author brings the subject back to life by weaving quotes from Leone skilfully into the narrative. This book has the goods on the movies, how they were made and the source material that inspired them. However, and this is the only serious quibble with this book, one wonders if it is necessary to go into such detail regarding the plot outline particularly of Once Upon A Time In America which is repeated a couple of times through the book. Perhaps the author wishes to convey the agonizing lengths to which Leone had to go to bring this epic project into being but this over-detailing tends to interrupt the flow of an otherwise well paced narrative and leave one with a lingering suspicion that this is so much padding. However, this quibble aside this book is the definitive Sergio Leone biography hardly likely to be surpassed. Would love to see a second edition minus the redundant information.
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on 29 April 2009
For all of us fans of the western movies of Sergio Leone,this book is a treat and pretty much essential. Christopher Frayling concentrates on the movies that Leone made in Italy and he has done a terrific job. The most well known of the spaghetti westerns are featured in great detail and there are very interesting interviews with Clint Eastwood,Lee Van Cleef,Eli Wallach,Claudia Cardinale and Martin Scorcese. People behind the scenes are included also with further interviews with Leone himself,Ennio Morricone,various writers and visualizers. One disappointment is that a major perfromer in the first two dollar movies, Gian Maria Volonte, barely warrants a mention which is puzzling.

The book features dozens of excellent photos and many original posters from the various movies. It should be noted that this isn't a book for fans of all of Leone's movies though as 'Once Upon In America' is mentioned a few times but only briefly. 'Once Upon A Time In Italy' is chiefly for aficianados of the westerns that changed the way so many people in the industry worked in the future. Quentin Tarantino has stated many times just how influential Sergio Leone's films have been and you gain a real insight into the world of the spaghetti western with this fine book.

This may not be the ultimate book on Sergio Leone but it could well be the definitive effort on the films that were to cement his legend...the western. It is a worthwhile purchase and Frayling deserves credit for a good and addictive book.
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One working associate of Sergio Leone describes him as "a brilliant film maker, but as a human being a complete turd". Harsh words indeed, but during the course of the book it is a recurring theme. At Leone's funeral there was not a single tribute from any of his western writers, who felt that he selfishly tried to steal all the credit for their hard work. It is also apparent that his version of events often conflicted with others views of the same thing. He was in short, a `teller of tall tales'. On one occasion when the actor Al Mulock committed suicide by jumping out of a hotel window in full cowboy regalia, Leone was more interested in getting the costume off of the corpse than with the little matter of mourning for a dead colleague. It would seem that so often our heroes have feet of clay. But are we the public really so interested in that? As the newspaper editor Dutton Peabody, played by Edmond O'Brien, so famously said in John Ford's elegiac western "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", `When the legend becomes fact, print the legend', and Leone was a great maker of films after all.

Historian, critic and broadcaster Sir Christopher Frayling is certainly well qualified to write a book about Leone. He has a genuine love of Spaghetti Westerns having already written a history of them from Karl May through to Leone. He has researched his book meticulously and conducted interviews with many of Leone's contemporaries. For such a work, this is one that I would put in the scholarly category, although having said this it is extremely readable and has pointed me usefully in the direction of many films that I have not heard of. The attention to detail is typical of the historian's enquiring mind. It is fascinating to understand more closely the man behind the myth, and how he worked. So much was simply just whirling about in Leone's vivid imagination. If you are unsure, just make it up as you go along, seemed to one of his philosophies to life.

Frayling's biography is both well researched and readable. It is also refreshingly candid, whilst at the same time illustrating Leone's unique talent. His work has been described as mannerish, carnivalesque, exhibitionist and excessive. But whichever, he certainly grabs your attention and has carved his large niche in cinematic history. He has influenced a new generation of film makers who use so many of his devices. Fulvio Morsella another colleague described him as a `spectacularist', which is a rather good way of putting it. As Butch Cassidy said to Sundance in George Roy Hill's film. "Boy, I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals'. That was Leone. This is the definitive biography, and the one to have. The book is a weighty tome indeed and contains mucho reading amigo. It will undoubtedly be reprinted again.
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on 17 May 2017
Good read about Italian westerns - not the best I've read
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on 4 May 2000
The enormous strength of this book for me is Frayling's succinct and detailed analysis of Leones films. He takes key scenes from all of Leones films backing them up with excellent anecdotes, to point out either a technical point to Leones directing, or as an excuse to show Leone's emotional sometimes bullying and overbearing manner when directing. The biography does get a little too bogged down in minor detail sometimes. This can be distracting but its better to be slightly over detailed than under detailed in a biography. The only other minor quibble I would have with the book is the start of it, which confusingly starts with Leone as a young teenager or so, before going back to when he was born. Although this shift in time was a common gimmick in Leone's films, Frayling's idea although nice in theory, disjoints the start of the book to no great purpose and does become a minor irritation. On the otherhand the anecdotes Frayling uses are of a superb quality, and are very well used to reflect different aspects of Leones character. This book will I suspect be a key work for those interested in spaghetti westerns and the making of them. It will also be a marvellous insight into the background of the film 'once upon a time in America'. A film that is a far deeper and more powerful experience than the Godfather or 'Goodfellas', rightly acknowledged classics of the 'gangster' genre.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 January 2014
This 2000 account of the life and work of legendary Italian film-maker Sergio Leone by British academic, art and film historian(now Sir) Christopher Frayling is (at around 500 pages) a treasure trove of information (some trivial, most enlightening) for one of the most influential of all modern film-makers. Along the way, we learn of Leone's single-minded (obsessive, even) approach to his craft and his tendency for grandiloquence (which clearly antagonised many of his collaborators), but, in the end, are left (in my case, at least) with something of a feeling of wistful fondness for what might have been (given that the man actually only completed 6 films - as principal director - in the 25 years since 1964's A Fistful Of Dollars until his death in 1989 aged 60).

It is also surprising (as Frayling notes) that Leone had not been a biographical subject prior to Frayling's book - it is difficult to know why this is, but may be related to the fact that Leone has always occupied a position somewhere between 'art-house' and mainstream cinema whose work has often been derided by 'serious' film critics. Here, Frayling charts Leone's Rome childhood, an only child born in the Trastevere district into a 'showbiz family' - silent era film director father and actress mother - and his early industry involvement centred around Rome's Cinecittà studios.

400 of the book's 500 pages are, however, (unsurprisingly) dedicated to his film-making post-1964, including detailed accounts of the making of his 3 Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns and his two Once Upon A Time masterpieces. As well as interviews with most of the man's collaborators - including school friend and composer Ennio Morricone, screenwriters Sergio Donati, Luciano Vincenzoni and Fulvio Morsella, and cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli - we also learn of the man's painstaking attention to detail (and scale) and accounts of his difficulty in persuading Clint Eastwood to accept the 'man with no name' role, his remarkable recruitment of Lee Van Cleef (who was virtually unable to walk, let alone mount a horse, at the time!) and his disputes with 'method actor' Rod Steiger on the set of A Fistful Of Dynamite.

Two final thoughts in the 'wistful' category - how Once Upon A Time In America would have come across if Leone had (as originally planned) cast Gerard Depardieu and Jean Gabin as the young and old Noodles and whether his final planned film of the siege of Leningrad would have topped all that had gone before. We can only wonder....
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on 3 August 2011
I bought this for myself and all the interviews and articles as well as the great images were fascinating for a fan of italian westerns and sergio leone. But to be honest after one read...that was it. I love to revisit books etc but this was a single journey.
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on 25 September 2013
For anyone who loves a good spag westerns and all of Leone's films. i studied film and originally read this at university. this is a gift for a friend who also loves them. also, i would like to add that the delivery came a day early, i got home and the driver arrived at the same time, handed me the item and was very friendly and joked that he had been waiting for me to get home to make the delivery (not in a stalker way)!
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