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Giuliano Montaldo, Italian Director of ‘Sacco & Vanzetti’ and ‘Machine Gun McCain,’ Dies at 93

Giuliano Montaldo, the admired Italian filmmaker who wrote and directed Sacco & Vanzetti, the John Cassavetes-starring Machine Gun McCain and every episode of the big-budget 1982 miniseries Marco Polo, has died. He was 93.

Montaldo died Wednesday at his home in Rome, his family announced.

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His big-screen résumé also included The Reckless (1965), starring Renato Salvatori; Grand Slam (1967), starring Janet Leigh; Giordano Bruno (1973), starring Gian Maria Volonté and Charlotte Rampling; And Agnes Chose to Die (1976), starring Ingrid Thulin; and The Gold Rimmed Glasses (1987), starring Philippe Noiret, Rupert Everett, Stefania Sandrelli and Valeria Golino.

Of the 20 films Montaldo helmed, 16 were set to music by Ennio Morricone; no other director collaborated with the famed composer more.

Montaldo also served as president of Italy’s RAI Cinema from 1999-2004.

Montaldo’s gangster tale Machine Gun McCain (1969), which also starred Britt Ekland, Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk, and Sacco & Vanzetti (1971), about the Massachusetts trial and 1927 execution of accused Italian anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (played by Riccardo Cucciolla and Volonté, respectively), both competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

He co-wrote and directed all eight episodes of Marco Polo, produced by RAI and NBC. The sweeping miniseries, starring Kenneth Marshall and featuring appearances by Denholm Elliott, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Burt Lancaster, Ian McShane and Leonard Nimoy, was broadcast in 46 countries and won two Emmy Awards.

Born in Genoa on Feb. 22, 1930, Montaldo acted in his hometown in “mass theater” shows organized by the Communist Party that, as he often said, had “more people on stage than in the audience.”

He was spotted by Carlo Lizzani and given roles in the director’s Achtung! Bandits! (1951), starring Gina Lollobrigida and Andrea Checchi, and Chronicle of Poor Lovers (1954), then promoted to assistant director.

As one of the best ADs in Italian cinema in his time, Montaldo worked for director Gillo Pontecorvo on such features as Wide Blue Road (1957), Kapo (1960) and the complex, documentary-style The Battle of Algiers (1966), an influential political film.

Pontecorvo also wanted him to play the leader of the French paratroopers in Algiers, which he did not want to do.

“Finally I took him aside and said, Gillo, listen: All through the movie you hear about this paratroop leader, Colonel Mathieu. Everybody is afraid of him, everybody is waiting for him, the audience expects to see a fierce fighter coming,” he recalled.

“Now, imagine a screening on a Saturday afternoon at the Adriano in Rome. Everyone is afraid, waiting for this Mathieu to show up, and when he appears, someone in the theater shouts, ‘It’s that jerk Montaldo, look!’ and the cinema breaks out with laughter. Is that what you want? Eventually he changed his mind.” (The role would go to French actor Jean Martin.)

Montaldo made his directorial debut with Pigeon Shoot (1961), which starred Jacques Charrier and played in competition at the Venice Film Festival, and his last film would be The Entrepreneur (2011), starring Pierfrancesco Favino.

He also guided operas including Turandot in 1983, Trovatore in 1990, Bohème and Othello in 1994, The Magic Flute in 1995, Nabucco in 1997 and Tosca in 1998.

He was given a lifetime achievement honor at the David di Donatello Awards in 2007.

Survivors include his wife, Vera, daughter of famed Italian actress Vera Vergani; daughter Elisabetta; and grandchildren Inti and Jana.

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