(director/writer: Luchino Visconti; screenwriters: from the novel by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa/Suso Cecchi D’Amico/Pasquale Festa Campanile/Enrico Medioli/Massimo Franciosa; cinematographer: Giuseppe Rotunno; editor: Mario Serandrei; music: Nino Rota; cast: Burt Lancaster (Prince Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina/The Leopard), Alain Delon(Tancredi Falconieri), Claudia Cardinale (Angelica Sedara), Paolo Stoppa (Don Calogero Sedara), Rina Morelli(Princess Maria Stella), Serge Reggiani(Don Ciccio Tumeo), Lucilla Morlacchi (Concetta), Romolo Valli (Father Pironne), Leslie French (Cavalier Chevally), Ivo Garrani (Colonel Pallavicino), Mario Girotti (Count Cavriaghi), Pierre Clémenti (Francesco Paolo), Ida Galli (Carolina), Ottavia Piccolo (Caterina), Carlo Valenzano (Paolo), Annamaria Bottini (Mlle. Dombreuil); Runtime: 205; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Goffredo Lombardo; The Criterion Collection; 1963-Italy/France-in Italian with English subtitles)
“Artistically drawn as if from an old master’s hand.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Based on the posthumously1958 bestseller novel by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa, telling about how the times are politically changing for 19th century and early 20th century Sicily.The author was the last of a line of Sicilian princes. The Marxist-count, director Luchino Visconti (“Ludwig”/”Senso”/”Death in Venice”), faithfully follows Di Lampedusa’s book, and cowrites the screenplay with a number of other Italian writers.Visconti’s motive in this historical epic was to show the origin of the modern Italian state.

Visconti disowned the English dubbed abbreviated version, that lopped off about 44 minutes and did its best to try and ruin a masterpiece (Criterion includes both versions).

Burt Lancaster’s performance is eloquent in either version (in the American version we hear him in English, while in the uncut version his voice is dubbed in Italian) and the visually ornate film, artistically drawn as if from an old master’s hand, is filled with stunning memorable shots and pays great attention to detail. The elaborate family drama is one of the most beautiful films ever made.

The rambling long story begins in Sicily, in 1860, during the “Risorgimento”—a revolutionary movement that took 55 years to reunify a split Italy into a democratic state. The Bourbons control Sicily, and the Italian patriot Garibaldi invades with an army of 800 mostly commoners to free the land for democracy. Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina (Burt Lancaster), the aging world-weary family patriarch, tries to keep his large frightened family calm during the attack. Meanwhile his favorite nephew, the penniless but dashing TancrediFalconieri (Alain Delon), joins Garibaldi’s Red Shirts as an officer. Shortly there’s a negotiated peace and Tancredi returns home to visit uncle as an officer in the king’s army, because Garibaldi’s army disbands. Fabrizio’s extended family has little choice in these changing times but mix their aristocratic bloodline with the emerging bourgeois rulers, as the ambitious Tancredi becomes engaged to the beautiful social climbing Angelica (Claudia Cardinale). Tancredi spurns his uncle’s lovelorn daughter (Lucilla Morlacchi), and still manages to get his blessings for the wedding. Angelica’s vulgar nouveau riche land owning father, the Mayor of Donnafugata, is Don Calogero Sedara (Paolo Stoppa), whom Fabrizio is repulsed by but believes their family wealth, almost equal to his, will help sustain his noble family for an extended period of time. The opportunistic likable nephew, settling down to the new order at home, plans to run for public office and use his new assets as well as his bloodline and connections to advance his own career. Tancredi represents the country’s future.

After experiencing the ways of the classy aristocrats in a number of set pieces, which plays out as an evocation of an era long lost–there’s the final ornate ball which goes on for 40 minutes and brings the pic to a fitting conclusion. Fabrizio, The Leopard, is consumed by death and is resigned to his downfall, as he dances his last waltz with Angelica realizing with a disquieting sense of relief that his days have come and gone.

The film’s magnificence is in how accurately and movingly it captures that evocative lost age, with Lancaster (the producers choice instead of Sir Laurence Olivier, as Visconti wanted) sympathetically portraying The Leopard as someone intelligent, idealistic and wise enough to know change is inevitable for his crumbling empire. He’s also someone stuck in the past, who resists change as much as he can–believing his kind will be replaced by jackals. In the end, Visconti greatly admired Lancaster’s riveting regal performance–whose sheer magnetic force holds the pic together.