The Leopard (1963 film)

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The Leopard (Italian: Il Gattopardo, "The Cheetah"; alternative title: Le Guépard) is a 1963 Italian epic period drama film by director Luchino Visconti, based on Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's 1958 novel of the same title.

The film features an international cast including the American Burt Lancaster, the Frenchman Alain Delon, the Italian Claudia Cardinale (who is dubbed in the Italian version by Solvejg D'Assunta because her native tongue was Sicilian and French) and Terence Hill (Mario Girotti). In the Italian-language 185-minute version, Lancaster's lines are dubbed into Italian by Corrado Gaipa; while in the 161-minute U.S. English-dubbed version, Lancaster's original voice work is heard.


In Sicily in 1860, Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina enjoys the customary comforts and privileges of an ancient and noble name. War has broken out between the armies of Francis II of the Two Sicilies and the insurgent volunteer redshirts of Giuseppe Garibaldi. Among the rebels is the Prince's remarkably handsome and dashing nephew, Tancredi, with whose romantic politics the Prince shares some whimsical sympathy. Moved by the uprising, the Prince departs for nearby Palermo. Garibaldi's army conquers the city and Sicily from the Bourbons. The Prince muses upon the inevitability of change, with the middle class displacing the hereditary ruling class while on the surface everything remains the same.

Refusing to bend to the tide of necessity, the Prince departs for his summer palace at Donnafugata. A new national assembly has called a plebiscite which the nationalists win 512-0, thanks to the corruption of the town's leading citizen, Don Calogero Sedara, who sees his daughter, the exquisitely beautiful Angelica, as a ticket of admittance to the high-class soirées of the nobility. Bringing her with him to the villa of the Salinas, he watches as both the Prince and Tancredi fall abjectly in love with her. Realising his chance, he effectively pimps his daughter to the aristocracy, and Tancredi offers his hand.

The Prince sees the wisdom of the match because he knows his nephew's vaulting ambition and need for ready cash, which Angelica's father, greedy for familial prestige, will happily make available. With the mutual blessing of the Prince of Salina and Don Calogero, Tancredi and Angelica become engaged.

A visitor from the constituent assembly comes to the villa. He begs the great scholar and nobleman to join the senate and help direct the ship of state; he hopes that the Prince's great compassion and wisdom will help alleviate the poverty and ignorance to be seen everywhere on the streets of Sicily. However, the Prince demurs and refuses this invitation, claiming that Sicily prefers its sleep to the agitations of modernity because its people are proud of who they are. He sees a future when the leopards and the lions, along with the sheep and the jackals, will all live according to the same law, but he does not want to be a part of this democratic vision.

He notes that Tancredi has shifted allegiances from the insurgent Garibaldi to the king's army, and wistfully recognises that his nephew is the kind of opportunist and time-server who will flourish in the new Italy.

A great ball is held at the villa of a neighboring Prince, and the Salinas and Tancredi attend. Afflicted by a combination of melancholia, the ridiculousness of the nouveau riche, and age, the Prince wanders forlornly from chamber to chamber, increasingly disaffected by the entire edifice of the society he so gallantly represents – until Angelica approaches and asks him to dance. Stirred and momentarily released from his cares, the Prince accepts, and once more he resembles the elegant and dashing figure of his past.

Disenchanted, he leaves the ball alone and asks Tancredi to arrange carriage for his family, and walks with a heavy heart to a dark alley that symbolises Italy's inordinate and fading past, which he inhabits.


  • Burt Lancaster as Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina
  • Claudia Cardinale as Angelica Sedara / Bertiana
  • Alain Delon as Prince Tancredi Falconeri, Don Fabrizio's nephew
  • Paolo Stoppa as Don Calogero Sedara, Mayor of Donnafugata
  • Rina Morelli as Princess Maria Stella of Salina, Don Fabrizio's wife
  • Romolo Valli as Father Pirrone
  • Terence Hill (billed as Mario Girotti) as Count Cavriaghi
  • Pierre Clémenti as Francesco Paolo
  • Lucilla Morlacchi as Concetta
  • Giuliano Gemma as Garibaldi's General
  • Ida Galli as Carolina
  • Ottavia Piccolo as Caterina
  • Carlo Valenzano as Paolo
  • Brook Fuller as Little Prince
  • Anna Maria Bottini as Mademoiselle Dombreuil
  • Olimpia Cavalli as Mariannina
  • Rina De Liguoro as Princess of Presicce
  • Ivo Garrani as Colonel Pallavicino
  • Leslie French as Cavalier Chevalley
  • Serge Reggiani as Don Francisco "Ciccio" Tumeo
  • Lou Castel as party guest
  • Tina Lattanzi
  • Marcella Rovena
  • Maurizio Merli



The original novel had been a best-seller. In August 1960 the Italian company Titanus announced that they would make a film based on the novel in Sicily the following summer on a budget of at least $2 million. The movie would be an Italian-American co-production, shot in English, with a combination of Italian and American stars. Ettore Giannini was preparing a script although it was expected he would collaborate with an English speaking writer to finish it.

Several treatments were reportedly done before Visconti became involved. "The book is seen through the eyes of a Sicilian prince who has no sense of the people," said Visconti. "The people were for Garibaldi and then they were destroyed by the Piedmontese. The popular conscience was strangled by the way the Piedmont upper class tried to keep the social structure of the south just as it was."

In July 1961 MGM announced they had signed a co-production deal with Titanus to make the movie. Warren Beatty was in discussions with Visconti to play the nephew, while Visconti approached Laurence Olivier and Spencer Tracy to play the lead.

When Visconti was told by producers that they needed to cast a star in order to help to ensure that they'd earn enough money to justify the big budget, the director's first choice was one of the Soviet Union's preeminent actors, Nikolai Cherkasov. Learning that Cherkasov was in no condition, the producers stipulated that the star should be either Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, Spencer Tracy or Burt Lancaster. The producers chose Hollywood star Burt Lancaster without consulting Visconti, which insulted the director and caused tension on the set; but Visconti and Lancaster ended up working well together, and their resulting friendship lasted the rest of their lives.

In November, Lancaster agreed to play the lead with filming to start in April. Lancaster said he had been "long fascinated" with The Leopard even before being offered the role. "I think it is the best written and most perceptive study of a man and his background that has appeared for many years."

He had doubts about accepting the part because "the novel was so perfect as a novel" but decided to accept.

All the scenes with Lancaster would be shot in English, and dubbed into Italian for the Italian version; other scenes would be filmed in Italian then dubbed into English for the English version.

In April 1962 20th Century Fox announced it had bought the distribution rights to the movie.


Filming started in May 1962 in Palermo. The first two weeks of the two month location shoot in Sicily were dedicated to battle scenes. After 22 weeks of location scenes, interiors would be shot in Rome.

Lancaster called Visconti "the finest director I've ever worked with."

Archibald Colquhoun worked as dialogue director.

By May 1963 it was reported the film had cost Titanus $5 million.


The Leopard has circulated in at least four different versions. Visconti's first cut was 205 minutes long, but was felt to be excessive in length by both the director and producer, and was shortened to 195 minutes for its Cannes Film Festival premiere.

Visconti then cut the film further to 185 minutes for its official release, and considered this version to be his preferred one.

The U.S English-dubbed version, in which the Italian and French actors were dubbed over (except for Burt Lancaster, whose original English voice work is heard), was edited down to 161 minutes by its distributor 20th Century Fox. This was done without Visconti's input - the director was unhappy at the American premiere with the cuts, dubbing and print.

Visconti threatened to sue Fox, who threatened to counter-sue the director, arguing that Lancaster supervised the American cut.

"I don't feel it's my film at all," said Visconti of the American cut.


The film debuted at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Palme d'Or for best picture.


Box office

The film was successful in Europe. It grossed $370,000 in its first 10 days from 8 Italian cities and was the sixth most popular film of the year at the French box office, with admissions of 3,688,024. Despite being cut for US release by Fox, the film didn't perform as well in the United States with theatrical rentals of $1.8 million.


At the time of its release in the summer of 1963, the majority of American critics panned the film. According to Newsweek, Lancaster looked "as if he's playing Clarence Day's Life with Father in summer stock." Jonathan Miller of The New Yorker derided Lancaster as "muzzled by whiskers and clearly stunned by the importance of his role." However, Time Magazine praised the characterisation of the titular Leopard as solid and convincing.


The 185 minute edition was released in the US in 1983.

New York magazine called the now-famous ballroom scene "almost unbearably moving." The New York Times wrote "The reappearance of this enchanting work proves that, under the right circumstances, two decades make no difference whatsoever but 25 minutes can transform a very good film into a possibly great one."

The film's reputation continues to rise. Director Martin Scorsese considers the film to be one of the greatest ever made.

In the decennial poll made by the British Film Institute, it was named the 57th greatest film of all time selected by critics. Review website Rotten Tomatoes reports the film has a 98% "Fresh" rating, based on 47 reviews.

Awards and honors

  • 1963 Cannes Film Festival
    • Winner: Palme d'Or – Luchino Visconti
  • Nastro d'Argento
    • Winner: Silver Ribbon – Luchino Visconti
    • Winner: Best Cinematography, Color (Migliore Fotografia a Colori) – Giuseppe Rotunno
    • Winner: Best Costume Design (Migliori Costumi) – Piero Tosi
    • Winner: Best Production Design (Migliore Scenografia) – Mario Garbuglia
  • Academy Awards
    • Nominated: Best Costume Design, Color – Piero Tosi


The original 8-perforation Technirama camera negative for The Leopard survives and was used by The Criterion Collection to create their video master for DVD and Blu-ray, with color timing supervised by the film's cinematographer, Giuseppe Rotunno. New preservation film elements were created using a 4K digital scan of the film, done with the cooperation of the Cineteca di Bologna, L'Immagine Ritrovata, The Film Foundation, Gucci, Pathé, Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé, Twentieth Century Fox, and Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia-Cineteca Nazionale.This restoration premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival to great fanfare.

Home media

There are several DVD editions available.

  • Region 2 (Italy) The Medusa Home Entertainment release (released in 2001) contains the 185-minute Italian version with several bonus features and interviews. This release is not English-friendly.
  • Region 2 (U.K.) The BFI Video release offers a restored version of the Italian cut with an audio commentary by David Forgacs and Rossana Capitano.
  • Region 2 (Japan) The Toho release contains an unrestored version of the Italian cut in the original audio (Japanese subs), and a rare alternative English dubbed track (different than the shorter U.S version). Extras are text based bios and facts in Japanese. This release is also not English-friendly.
  • Region 1 (U.S.) The Criterion Collection release is a 3-disc set containing a restored version of the 185-minute Italian version (with optional English subtitles), several bonus features, interviews, an audio commentary by Peter Cowie, and the 161-minute U.S English dubbed version as an extra.

Blu-ray release.

  • Region A (U.S.) The Criterion Collection 2-disc Blu-ray set boasts a transfer of the 185-min Italian version in 1080P, most of the DVD bonus materials plus newly created ones, and the 161-minute U.S English dubbed version in 1080i.

See also

  • Sergio Corbucci's I figli del leopardo - a parody of the film.

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