MOVIE MEMORY ~ The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) 1963

The Leopard is perhaps the most beautiful films in Italian Cinema and one of the best from this country of great filmmakers. Directed by the master of period films Luchino Visconti it is sweeping, grand and magnificent in the telling of the story of the unification of Italy from the point of view of Sicilian Prince Don Fabrizio Salina. It encompasses the fall of the old ways of the aristocracy of a divided Italy and the rise of a new country with a healthy vibrant middleclass that would change Italy forever.

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The film is dominated by the best work captured on film of the great American actor, Burt Lancaster. He inhabits the role of the Italian Prince Salina with the dignity, power and grace of a true prince of cinema. It is reported in the extras on this Criterion DVD that he based his character on that of the equally aristocratic Visconti. Shrewd man that Lancaster was, for he presents us with two portraits, that of Visconti vision of the prince and that of his own interpretation embodiment of the director. Throughout the film there is in Lancaster a touch of the wounded or fallen hero. As the film progresses he fades in power and seems the verge of some terrible loss. His world is dying and he is on the edge of death itself. He seems, and is in fact in the end very near death though we are not shown anything more than a mere indication of his doom. In his final moments on screen he is heartbreaking.

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There are so many other wonderful performances in the film. Rina Morelli is proud, haughty, silly and touching as the wife of the Prince. Terrance Hill is wonderful in his small role of Count Cavriaghi, friend and wartime companion to the prince’s nephew Tancredi Falconeri. Alain Delon creates in Tancredi a magnificent spoiled and ultimately self-destructive young man who at first embraces the changes in the new Italy even to the point of wooing a woman from the middle class who a few years earlier would never have even been considered suitable. He gives in this film one of his best performances.

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And among the most luscious women of the Italian cinema of the 1960’s is Claudia Cardinale. A star of so many memorable films in both Italy and the U.S. she is here so stunningly beautiful and perfect as the fiancée  of Tancredi that she seems almost unreal. Her Angelica Sedara is both ethereal and earthy. The scene where she reacts at a formal dinner to a ribald story told by Delon is perfection. Her presence at the ball at the end of the film is truly memorable.

The sets, costumes and locals of the film are resplendent in scope and detail from the magnificent villa of the prince with it’s real silk walls to the ballroom at the end of the film set in the center of a palatial villa of unequaled splendor. The film is so magnificent that it is almost impossible to take it all in at one time. It bears repeated viewings and on the largest screen possible.

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This Criterion presentation is magnificent and loaded with wonderful extras that shed light on the making of and restoration of this masterpiece. The DVD is full of insights, included are interview with the screenwriters, set and costume designers, and the producer as well as the charming Miss Cardinale. You are also given the chance of viewing the Italian version or the re-cut (by a young Sydney Pollack) American version.

Visconti was an incredibly gifted and fascinating filmmaker who should not be overlooked by any true lover of cinema. The Leopard is his masterwork.

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What perfume would  Prince Don Fabrizio Salina have worn? Well for my money in the saving scene it would have to be ,  Garofano by Santa Maria Novella. One of the oldest perfume houses of Italy. This carnation perfume created in 1828 would have been perfect for the prince with its  top notes of  lemon, bergamot, mandarin and neroli. Middle notes of rosemary, petit grain, lavender and clove. a nice drydown of carnation and benzoin. An eau de cologne fit for a Prince.

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5 Comments

  1. Signor Lanier

    Some celestial telegraph must be functioning today – I was thinking of Il Gatapardo and Visconti’s other masterpiece Death in Venice only today – a fragrance reminded me of the decay by the Lido.

    Lancaster’s performance here is masterly in a way which – necessarily – transcends language and transmits the full intensity of the tragedy.

    Much the same can be said of Sir Dirk Bogarde’s seamless performance in the later work.

    The design, as you so eloquently highlight, is quite miraculously beautiful in both.

    Bogarde enjoyed a second career as an accomplished novelist and possibly the best memoirist the British cinema has ever produced (David Niven surely challenges for this title), perhaps you can enlighten me – did Mr Lancaster ever set pen to paper?

    Thank you S. L__ for running this picture again through my memory.

    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

  2. Burt Lancaster never wrote anything as far as I can tell. He was a great actor who belived in standing up for the right thing be it civil rights, the movement against the Viet Nam war, and anti-McCarthyism. He joined in support of Gay rights and the war on AIDS when his friend Rock Hudson died of the disease.
    He was an admirable man.

  3. I’ve never seen that film, but I will see if my local libray has it. Sounds like a good one to curl up with on a cold night.

  4. See the Italian language version over the English version. It is so much better and unedited. I hope you like it. The last 40 minutes at the ball is stunning.

  5. One of my absolute favorite films. The wardrobe! Amazing! And your perfume pick is perfect!

    On a side note, wasn’t the choice of Lancaster controversial?


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