In the Two Sicilies of 1860, Fabrizio Corbero, the Prince Of Salina (Burt Lancaster) tries
to uphold the old way of life as civil war threatens to change it forever. His dashing
nephew Tancredi (Alain Delon) dashes off to fight with Garibaldi, who is attempting to
unite all of Italy into one nation. On his return, the penniless Tancredi falls in love
with Angelica (Claudia Cardinale), the voluptuous daughter of a vulgarian snob who is
richly endowed with olive groves. Fabrizio knows that a marriage will compromise the
family name, but with the aristocracy already in decline, the pragmatic patriarch realises
that such a union will shore up the family fortune and forestall its inevitable fall.
Review by Keith Lofthouse:
Unwinding slowly, inexorably, like Guiseppe di Lampedusa’s complex political novel on
which it is based, The Leopard is the film most often described as Visconti’s
masterpiece: a richly literate, solemn but sumptuous historical epic that ironically
laments the downfall of dynasties and the rise of the bourgeoisie. After Laurence Olivier
declined, 20th Century Fox only agreed to finance the project if an American appeared as
the imperious Sicilian patriarch, but when the poorly dubbed and badly butchered 165
minute English version was first shown in1963, the director disowned it.
Twenty years later, seven years after Visconti’s death, a faded, full length
“director’s cut” was released but only now can it be seen restored to its
original glory. Still, it must be said that what is glory to some may be gloom to others.
To complain that the film is “too long” is to say that a Puccini opera would be
better “without the songs,” but inevitably the film has its detractors: those
who question its political ambiguity, those who quibble about the suitability of Lancaster
as a Sicilian prince - a leopard is centre piece in the family coat of arms - or grizzle
about the gorgeous, grandiose ballroom scene that occupies the last hour.
For the most part, Visconti was painstaking in his attention to detail, most consciously
when the family, defying the turmoil around them, retreat to their summer palace by convoy
of horse and carriage over the sun-baked landscape. They arrive, caked in dust and dirt to
sit - the last bastion of faded aristocracy - like a row of stone on a long cathedral pew.
Flaws emerge when Garibaldi’s red-shirted revolutionaries swarm into the streets of
Palermo for unconvincing scenes of hand-to-hand battle with the Bourbon soldiers. They
seem to be played in slow motion, with no urgency on the faces of men facing mutilation or
death; a little girl caught in the conflict between gunfire and sword disappears and the
piazza is full of bloodless, breathing corpses. In a rousing call to arms, Tancredi
asserts: “If we want everything to stay as it is, everything must change,” and
yet during the fighting, the handsome adventurer, nursing a head wound, is seen only in a
long or medium shot and emerges without a scar.
Lancaster based his performance on his own impressions of Visconti, himself a
Marxist-aristocrat. He is often reserved, melancholy, impatient and dismissive, cruelly of
his plain and prudish wife (“How can I find satisfaction with a woman who makes The
Sign Of The Cross before every embrace!”) and more so of Angelica’s bumptious
nouveau riche father Don Calogero (Paolo Stoppa) whom he tolerates with utter contempt.
But he is never more human than in the ballroom scenes when, giddied by the swirl of fine
wine, smiling dancers and giggling girls, he scours the opulent hallways for a retreat and
stumbles into a loo full of chamberpots - where all men (and women) are equal. Finally
alone in the library, he gazes on a Grueze painting, Death Of A Just Man and begins to
realise his own mortality and the inevitable demise of the ruling class.
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LEOPARD, THE (PG)
(Italy/ France, 1963)
CAST: Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale
PRODUCER: Goffredo Lombardo
DIRECTOR: Luchino Visconti
SCRIPT: Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Enrico Medioli, Massimo Fanciosa, Luchino Visconti
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Guiseppe Rotunno
EDITOR: Mario Serandrei
MUSIC: Franco Ferrara
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mario Garbuglia
RUNNING TIME: 188 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Potential Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney & Melbourne: December 4, 2003