Mario Soldati, a film director and prolific writer of books, poems and screenplays, died Saturday of natural causes in Rome. He was 92.Born in Turin, Italy, Soldati, a graduate of the U. of Turin, came to the United States in his late 20s to study and subsequently teach at Columbia U. while he moonlighted as a correspondent for a Genoa newspaper. Although Soldati directed some 30 films from 1931 to 1960 and served as second-unit director on “Ben Hur” (1959), his strongest talent was considered his narrative style of writing. He often delved into the whimsical strangeness of life in some three dozen works. His novels won occasional Italian literary prizes, but had little commercial success. His first widely recognized book was “Lettere da Capri,” written in 1953. He adapted easily to television, working with the medium in the early 1950s in its very first years in Italy. He was also considered the father of Italian TV criticism. Among the more acclaimed of his films was “Piccolo Mondo Antico,” and “La Provinciale,” based on a novel by Alberto Moravia.