The Leopard Movie Review

1963's The Leopard, directed by the Italian Count Luchino Visconti and based on the best-selling novel by countryman Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, tells the story of an Old World aristocrat - the Sicilian Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina - as he faces the changes forced upon his embattled social class by the Italian Risorgimento of 1860, a revolutionary social movement (and armed conflict) that brought about the end of that country's feudal monarchies and united its states into what now is the country of Italy. The vision of both the novel and the film is epic, and the politics of the thing are intricate enough that even a native Italian likely found it a challenge in 1963, and would likely find it even more so today. The politics are also central to the film, and this undoubtedly contributed to its uneasy stateside reception in '63 and its virtual unavailability on video until now.

My hope is that Criterion's marvelous new three-DVD edition will change that. Unlike many special editions, there's no superfluous material here: The set includes the original, 187-minute Italian version of The Leopard, the U.S. theatrical release (because Burt Lancaster starred, 20th Century Fox had American rights to the film; not knowing what to do with it, they trimmed 16 minutes, dubbed it into English, and distorted - in the interests of "accessibility" - Giuseppe Rotunno's gorgeous widescreen cinematography), enlightening commentary by film historian Peter Cowie, and video essays that provide important historical context for the action alongside new interviews with surviving cast and crew members.

What Criterion has returned to us is a great screen epic with a compelling psychological portrait at its center, a film that is simultaneously sprawling and intimate. As the Prince, Lancaster is the embodiment of aristocracy, gorged on luxury and entitlement yet essentially noble, and he plays at a depth perfectly suited to the form; he goes deep with his performance, but no so deep as to subvert the cinematic spectacle, as a method actor might. Visconti, for his part, conducts The Leopard at an elegant pace appropriate to his hero's sense of decorum. What threatens the Prince's way of life is not just political reform but also the younger generation that gives expression to it; here, Alain Delon - one of the screen's really timeless male beauties - appears as the Prince's charming yet cunning nephew who stands to inherit his elders' power, with a ravishing (and ravishingly dressed) Claudia Cardinale as his guileless fiancée.

In terms of Italian cinematic power, it was really Visconti, and not Fellini (whose 8 1/2 came out that same year), who wore the mantle of royalty in 1963. What that power bought for him and his film is a sumptuousness, in production terms, that illuminates every frame of The Leopard, and that Visconti wields with taste and unerring intelligence. Leslie Halliwell wrote that the film is "painted like an old master," and the truth of that comment is borne out in Visconti's sublime framing and composition, in Rotunno's intuitive yet formal camera work, and in Nino Rota's elegant score.

The Leopard is not for everyone, maybe even less so today than in 1963. Its elegiac pacing requires more patience than many will be willing to give and its conflicts seethe below the surface rather than on the screen. But true lovers of cinema will find in it an awesome example of screen craftsmanship of a sort that has vanished as surely as the way of life it portrays.

Aka Il Gattopardo.

Comments

The Leopard Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: NR, 1963

Advertisement

Editors Recommendations

'Nas: Time Is Illmatic' Marks The 20th Anniversary Of One Of The Greatest Ever Rap Albums [Trailer]

The 1990s marked a turning point for rap and hip hop, with plenty of artists...

'Nas: Time Is Illmatic' Marks The 20th Anniversary Of One Of The Greatest Ever Rap Albums [Trailer]

Nicole Scherzinger - Big Fat Lie - A Track by Track Interview

Nicole Scherzinger talks us through the tracks on her second solo album 'Big Fat Lie', released...

Nicole Scherzinger - Big Fat Lie - A Track By Track Interview Video

Sam Smith - Like I Can Audio

An audio for Sam Smith's super soulful love ballad 'Like I Can' has now been made available. The song is taken from his...

Sam Smith - Like I Can (Audio) Video

'Ouija' Cast Joined By Fellow TV Stars For Hollywood's Spookiest Social Seance [Video]

With the forthcoming release of supernatural horror 'Ouija', the cast were joined...

'Ouija' Cast Joined By Fellow TV Stars For Hollywood's Spookiest Social Seance [Video]

One Direction Announce U.S. Stadium Tour

Get ready America – One Direction have unveiled their schedule for U.S. leg of their world tour next year. The teen...

One Direction Announce U.S. Stadium Tour

With 100%, 'Big Hero 6' Is Pretty Much The Best Movie Ever

Well, we didn't see this one coming. Or did we? Disney's shadowy project...

With 100%, 'Big Hero 6' Is Pretty Much The Best Movie Ever

Pharrell Williams And T.I. Talk Song Writing

Almost every musical writer has their own way of working on a project, and now Pharrell Williams and T.I. have revealed...

Pharrell Williams And T.I. Talk Song Writing

Ethan Hawke Cast As Chet Baker In New Biopic

Ethan Hawke has been cast as the late jazz musician Chet Baker in a movie about the trumpeter’s...

Ethan Hawke Cast As Chet Baker In New Biopic
Advertisement