Italy’s top bestseller of recent literary history, Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa’s The Leopard comes to the screen in a magnificent film, munificently outfitted and splendidly acted by a large cast dominated by Burt Lancaster’s standout stint in the title role. It must also be added that, at nearly 3 1/2 hours, the film is way overlong. Several sequences fail to trenchantly move forward the story.
Director Luchino Visconti has faithfully followed the book’s main outlines, from Prince Salina’s city palazzo to the country estate, the Garibaldi interludes, and Tancredi’s gradual involvement with Angelica, the pawn in her father’s social ascent, symbolizing the changing times, society structure and manners which form the core of Lampedusa’s theme. The film story, however, ends before the Prince’s death, culminating instead with the lavish Grand Ball sequence as a symbol of an era coming to its end.
Lancaster’s Salina is an outstanding achievement, one which almost alone brings together the film’s various threads, giving it body and provoking thought. Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon appear ideally cast as Angelica and Tancredi. Both make the most of their roles despite a certain lack of warmth. Cardinale also makes a brief (veiled) appearance as her own mother.
Paolo Stoppa is excellent as Don Calogero, another tailor-made part, while Rina Morelli has some fine moments as Maria Stella, the princess, as does Romolo Valli, as Father Pirrone. One role stands out among the many colorful supporting performances: that of Leslie French as Chevally, the north Italian emissary who discusses the country’s future with Prince Salina.
Production-wise, The Leopard has been spared no expense. Its authentic Sicilian settings show, almost to a fault, plenty of spending. The several intimate passages vital to the story are nearly lost in the shuffle.
[Version reviewed was Italian-language one, in which most actors were dubbed. An English-language version, released by 20th Century-Fox, ran 165 mins.]