What’s the big difference between Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and the sequel, For A Few Dollars More? The sequel is infinitely better because it has a lot of humor, missing in the first film, which was a flat-out rip-off of Akira Kurosawa’s Eastern western, Jojimbo. And what makes Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly the best of the three? It’s even funnier, wittier. Now who was responsible for this much-needed comic vision? A brilliant Italian screenwriter named Luciano Vincenzoni, who also contributed to a number of Italian classics (like Seduced and Abandoned and The Birds, The Bees, and the Italians) directed by the great director-actor Pietro Germi.
As a person, Luciano was an absolute delight. I had the good fortune to work with him first back in 1969 when I was asked to direct the Leone-produced Duck, You Sucker (which eventually became A Fistful of Dynamite, and directed by Leone). Luciano and I had a great time together in Rome, trying to please Sergio, and laughing a lot. He was a true original, with an incredibly fertile imagination, and plot-twists poured out of him like water from a deep well. He had a superb sense of humor, of course, and a rollicking grasp of the absurd.
It’s this trait that made it easier for him to work with Sergio, who was most like a flamboyant ten-year-old playing at cowboys and Indians, endlessly acting out a showdown, for example, between one outlaw and another: “Clink, clink,” indicating spurs, then his hand spins out an imaginary six-gun, and, “Bang, bang!” Following this, he might say that the character is, naturally, we should understand, none other than Jesus Christ.
To function with Sergio, as Luciano did for a while (until they finally had a violent split), the writer had to have patience and a privately held attitude of splendid derision. He and I used to roar with laughter after a typical session with Leone, which was nothing if not surreal. This humor of Luciano’s is what makes Leone’s best films so entertaining: the writer didn’t take it all seriously, and that made for a lack of pretense and a free-wheeling sardonic attitude to the material he was turning out.
Luciano was like the perfect Italian: charming, humorous, amorous, self-deprecating, handsome, and worldly. Sad to say, Luciano passed away last month at the age of 87, and I will always miss him. He was one of a kind.