Burt Lancaster in ‘Il gattopardo’ (1963)
Burt Lancaster of all people stars in this epic Italian historical drama from 1963, Il gattopardo (The Leopard). Directed by Luchino Visconti, and based on the 1958 novel by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa, the film tells the story of a wealthy Sicilian family living in the 1860s during a time of great political revolt in Italy. Lancaster plays the family patriarch who can see that his family’s days of isolated wealth and privilege are coming to an end and does what he must to keep his family’s legacy alive.
Turner Classic Movies (TCM) gives some interesting background to the one of the great sequences in the film, the ball scene in Act III:
Over a month was devoted to the ball sequence alone (it had to be filmed at night, because of the summer heat), with results that fully justified Visconti’s perfectionism. The ball is one of the great set pieces in cinema, an astoundingly fluid and complex sequence in which all the themes of The Leopard converge, together with the three classes of the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, and the military. According to screenwriter Suso Cecchi D’Amico, “At heart, the novel is the story of the first time that different social classes mix.” The ball sequence brilliantly dramatizes this historical moment, staging it as a spectacle that unfolds under the view of the pensive Prince, who, loathing the shallow, self-satisfied guests parading before him, retires privately to contemplate his own death.
Il gattopardo is widely praised for its elaborate historical recreations, lavish costumes, and marvelous filming locations (mostly in and around Palermo, Sicily). And I would concur–I found the film to be beautiful, compelling, and thought provoking.
Burt Lancaster delivers a phenomenal performance as the Prince of Salina. The international supporting cast does a terrific job as well, particularly Alain Delon (from France) who plays the Prince’s nephew Tancredi, and Claudia Cardinale (who is actually from Italy) who plays Tancredi’s intended Angelica. I’m not sure if Burt Lancaster actually delivered his lines in Italian or not during filming, but his voice is dubbed in the finished film along with many others (I rented an Italian language version of the film with English subtitles from Amazon Instant Video).
Non abbiate paura (never fear), it all works. If you’re interested in a beautiful historical drama with some interesting things to think about, definitely check out Il gattopardo.
Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale in the ball sequence in ‘Il gattopardo’ (1963)