Classic Movie Review: The Leopard (1963)


Title: The Leopard 
Release Date: March 27, 1963
Director: Luchino Visconti
Production Company: Titanus
Summary/Review: After being underwhelmed by Senso, a movie by the same director set in the same time period, I was not looking forward to watching another lengthy Italian historical drama.  On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever watched a movie with Burt Lancaster in a starring role and I always like Claudia Cardinale, so I had those things to look forward to.

Lancaster plays Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina in Sicily in 1860 at the time of Giuseppe Garibaldi’s war of Italian unification.  His favorite nephew Tancredi (Alain Delon, L’Eclisse) is swept up in the romanticism of the rebellion and joins Garibaldi’s redshirts.  The Prince more pragmatically supports Garibaldi from afar as a means of maintaining the aristocracy as it is.  When traveling to his summer estate, the Prince reluctantly has to entertain the nouveau-riche mayor of the town Don Calogero Sedara (Paolo Stoppa). When Tancredi falls for Don Calogero’s daughter Angelica (Cardinale), the Prince once again pragmatically approves of the match since it will bring in much needed cash from Don Calogero’s coffers.

For a movie of this length, there isn’t much plot. Instead it’s a series of subtle performances among the sumptuousness of the elite’s lifestyle of the Prince contrasted with the crumbling world of the common people of Sicily.  While I’m not all too interested in films about the fading of aristocratic society, since I think aristocracy should fade away, I have to admit that Lancaster’s nuanced performance makes the Prince a sympathetic character.  This movie very easily could have been a melodrama, but instead it is something more restrained and revealing.

I have to confess that I watched this movie on a 3-disc DVD from the library.  I popped in the first disc and watched the movie before realizing it was actually Disc 3, and what I watched was a shortened American version dubbed into English.  Ironically, this is the only version of the film that features Lancaster’s voice since he’s dubbed by an Italian actor in other versions.  I suppose that I failed to watch the version of the movie that earned the laudits of Cahiers du Cinéma and Sight and Sound, but I think I got a full taste of The Leopard for the time being.

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