The Leopard

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(1963, directed by Luchino Visconti)

- inducted 2019 –

“Luchino Visconti’s masterpiece The Leopard is one of the most celebrated period dramas in cinematic history, and for good reason – every set, every prop, every stitch of clothing looks and feels impeccable. What distinguishes Visconti’s film, adapted from a novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, from so many other films like it is that the settings and costumes don’t seem glamourous or lush. Indeed, everything feels a little worn, as if one might pick up a random candlestick to find a discolored patch underneath, the tablecloth faded from too much sunlight and dust over the years. This is very much in keeping with the tale the film has to tell, that of an aging Prince in the autumn of his days, on the cusp of outliving the society he’s belonged to since before he was born.

“The Prince, known as Don Fabrizio, is played by Burt Lancaster, who then as now seems an unlikely choice to play an Italian aristocrat. And yet it works (despite the obvious ethnic differences), because Visconti recognized the intangible qualities that Lancaster brought to the part. Lancaster’s athletic background allowed him to inject a masculine virility into his roles, even as age took over, and this helps him cut a slightly larger-than-life figure as the renowned Don. Combining this with the touch of aloofness Lancaster conveyed lets him glide just above the proceedings, seeing the larger context of the story in a way the characters around him can’t.

“And then… he dances.

“When he accepts an offer to dance from Angelica (Claudia Cardinale!), the fiancé of his nephew Tancredi (Alain Delon), he suddenly (if briefly) changes back into the Don Fabrizio that society once knew, and the Burt Lancaster the audience knows from his younger days – dashing and romantic, a beautiful woman in his arms, at the center of the action. But with this comes another change, this one within the Prince himself. As he gets another taste of the life he once enjoyed, it only serves to drive home emotionally what he previously was able to acknowledge intellectually – that his world, such as it is, no longer belongs to him.

“Not long ago, I caught up belatedly with Visconti’s 1954 classic Senso. Watching that film, I was struck by how similar its ending feels to The Leopard’s final scene. In both cases, we see the protagonist (Alida Valli as Countess Livia in the earlier film, Lancaster in this one) walking through the streets alone, trying to deal emotionally with the dramatic changes that have occurred in their respective lives. But unlike Livia, sobbing and wailing into the blackness of night, Don Fabrizio ponders his future silently in the early morning sun. A new day is dawning in Italy, a world for young opportunists like Tancredi, for middle class families like Angelica’s. As for the Prince, all that’s left for him to do in the story is to duck down an alleyway and disappear.” ~ Paul Clark

Original title: Il gattopardo
Principal cast: Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon, Paolo Stoppa, Rina Morelli, Romolo Valli, Terence Hill, Pierre Clémenti, Lucilla Morlacchi, Giuliano Gemma, Ida Galli, Ottavia Piccolo, Carlo Valenzano, Brook Fuller, Anna Maria Bottini, Lola Braccini, Marino Masé, Howard N. Rubien, Serge Reggiani
Screenplay and adaptation by Suso Cecchio D’Amico, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Enrico Medioli, Massino Franciosa, Luchino Visconti
Based on the novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Produced by Goffredo Lombardo
Executive producer: Pietro Notarianni
Director of photography: Giuseppe Rotunno
Production design by Mario Garbuglia
Costume design by Piero Tosi
Film editing by Mario Serandrei
Original music by Nino Rota
Makeup artist: Alberto De Rossi
Hair stylists: Maria Angelini, Amalia Paoletti
Sound engineer: Mario Messina
Choreography by Alberto Testa (uncredited)

Duration: 186 minutes
Languages: Italian, Latin, French
Filmed in color (Technicolor)
Sound mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Cinematographic process: Super Technirama 70
Aspect ratio: 2.20:1
Printed film format: 70mm / 35mm anamorphic

Produced by Titanus (Rome), S.N. Pathé Cinéma, S.G.C. (Paris)
Released in USA by Twentieth Century Fox
Premiered in Rome on March 27, 1963
USA release date: August 12, 1963

Awards and honors:
- Selected as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies”
- Cannes Film Festival, 1963 – Palme d’Or (won)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1963 – Best Costume Design, Color (nominated)
- Golden Globes, 1963 – Most Promising Newcomer, Male – Alain Delon (nominated)
- National Board of Review, 1963 – Top Foreign Film (nominated)

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