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The Leopard (1963 film)

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The Leopard
Original film poster
ItalianIl Gattopardo
Directed byLuchino Visconti
Screenplay bySuso Cecchi d'Amico
Enrico Medioli
Pasquale Festa Campanile
Massimo Franciosa
Luchino Visconti
René Barjavel[1][2]
Based onThe Leopard
(1958 novel)
by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Produced byGoffredo Lombardo
StarringBurt Lancaster
Claudia Cardinale
Alain Delon
Paolo Stoppa
Rina Morelli
Romolo Valli
Serge Reggiani
Terence Hill
CinematographyGiuseppe Rotunno
Edited byMario Serandrei
Music byNino Rota
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 27 March 1963 (1963-03-27) (Italy)
  • 20 May 1963 (1963-05-20) (France)
Running time
    • 205 minutes (workprint)
    • 195 minutes (Cannes cut)
    • 185 minutes (Italian cut)
    • 171 minutes (European cut)
    • 161 minutes (U.S. cut)
Box office$1,800,000 (US/Canada rentals)[3]
3,649,498 admissions (France)[4]

The Leopard (Italian: Il Gattopardo, lit.'The Serval')[5] is a 1963 epic historical drama film directed by Luchino Visconti. Written by Visconti, Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Enrico Medioli, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Massimo Franciosa, and an uncredited René Barjavel, the film is an adaptation of the 1958 novel of the same title by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.[6]

Burt Lancaster stars as Don Fabrizio Corbera, an aging Sicilian nobleman caught up in the sociopolitical turmoil of the Risorgimento (Italian unification) during the mid-19th century, with Alain Delon as his opportunistic nephew Tancredi, and Claudia Cardinale as his goddaughter. Paolo Stoppa, Rina Morelli, Romolo Valli, Serge Reggiani, and Terence Hill play supporting roles. The film was an international co-production between Italian studio Titanus and French studio Pathé.[7]

The film won the Palme d'Or at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival,[8] and was released theatrically in Italy on March 28, 1963, and in France on June 14. It was a critical and commercial success in Europe, but reception was more lukewarm in the United States, where a truncated, English-dubbed cut was released. Retrospective reviews—of the film's longer original cut—have been more positive, and the film is now widely regarded as a classic and one of the greatest movies ever made.[9][10]

In 2008, the film was included on the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage's 100 Italian films to be saved, a list of 100 films that "have changed the collective memory of the country between 1942 and 1978."[11]


In Sicily in the year 1860, Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, enjoys the customary comforts and privileges of his ancestry. 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 nephew, Tancredi, whose romantic politics the Prince hesitantly accepts with some whimsical sympathy. Upset by the uprising, the Prince departs to Palermo. Garibaldi's army subjugate the city and expropriate Sicily from the Bourbons. The Prince muses upon the inevitability of change, with the middle class displacing the ruling class while on the surface everything remains the same. Refusing to bend to the tide of changes, the Prince departs to his summer palace at Donnafugata.

A new national assembly calls a plebiscite and the nationalists win 512–0, thanks to the corruption and support of the town's leading citizen, Don Calogero Sedara. Don Calogero is invited to the villa of the Corberas, and he brings his daughter Angelica with him. Both the Prince and Tancredi are taken by Angelica's beauty. Soon thereafter, Tancredi makes plans to ask for her hand in marriage. The Prince sees the wisdom of the match because he knows that, due to his nephew's vaulting ambition, Tancredi will be in need of ready cash, which Angelica's father will happily provide. With the blessing of both the Prince and Don Calogero, Tancredi and Angelica get engaged. Noticing Tancredi shift his allegiance from Garibaldi to King Vittorio's newly-formed army, the Prince wistfully judges that his nephew is the kind of opportunist who will flourish in the new Italy.

Cavalier Chevalley, a representative from the Kingdom of Sardinia, comes to the Prince's villa. He pleads with the Prince to join the senate of the nascent Kingdom of Italy, hoping that the Prince's great compassion and wisdom will help alleviate the perceived poverty and alleged ignorance on the streets of Sicily. However, the Prince demurs and refuses this invitation, observing that, in his view, Sicily prefers its traditions to the delusions of modernity because its people are proud of their ancient heritage. He says he foresees his brand of aristocratic rulers, whom he refers to as leopards and lions, being replaced by more bureaucratic rulers, who he calls jackals and hyenas, but that everyone, including the "sheep" of the general public, will continue to see themselves as the "salt of the earth". The Prince recommends Don Calogero would make a more appropriate senator.

The Corberas, including Tancredi, attend a great ball at the villa of a neighbouring prince, and the event marks the debut of Angelica in high society. Afflicted by a combination of melancholia and the ridiculousness of the nouveau riche, the Prince wanders forlornly from room to room, increasingly disaffected by the entire edifice of the society he so gallantly represents—until Angelica approaches and asks him to dance. He accepts and, momentarily, recaptures and presents the elegant and dashing figure of his past self, but, after the dance, he quickly becomes disenchanted again.

In the early morning, the Prince leaves the ball alone. Walking with a heavy heart through the empty streets, he pauses to let a hurrying priest pass and enter a home to deliver last rites, and then walks into a dark alley that symbolises Italy's fading past, to which he feels he belongs.


From left to right: Claudia Cardinale as Angelica, Burt Lancaster as Don Fabrizio, and Alain Delon as Tancredi


The ballroom of Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi, where the famous ballroom sequence was shot


Villa Boscogrande, one of the film's primary locations

Tomasi's novel was a bestseller in Italy and won the Strega Prize, Italy's most prestigious literary award. In August 1960, Italian studio Titanus announced they would make a film based on the novel in Sicily the following summer on a budget of at least $2 million. The film was to be an Italian-American co-production, shot in various languages, with a combination of Italian and American stars. Ettore Giannini was preparing a script, although it was expected he would collaborate with another writer to finish it.[12]

Several treatments were reportedly done before Visconti became involved.[13] "The book is seen through the eyes of a Sicilian prince who has no sense of the people", said Visconti. "The people were fooled by 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."[14]

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 Tancredi, while Visconti approached Laurence Olivier and Spencer Tracy to play the Prince.[15]

Visconti was told by producers that they needed to cast a star in order to ensure they would earn enough money to justify the big budget. The producers recommended that the star should be either Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, Spencer Tracy, or Burt Lancaster, and chose Lancaster without consulting Visconti. This insulted the director, which caused tension on the set initially, but Visconti and Lancaster ended up working well together, and their resulting friendship lasted the rest of Visconti's life.[16]

In November 1961, Lancaster agreed to play the lead role, with filming to start in April.[17] Lancaster said he had been "long fascinated" with The Leopard, even before being offered the role, saying: "I think it is the best written and most perceptive study of a man and his background that has appeared for many years."[18] He said he had doubts about accepting the part because "the novel was so perfect as a novel", but, ultimately, decided to accept.[19]

In April 1962, 20th Century Fox announced it had bought the film's distribution rights.[20]


Visconti and Lancaster behind the scenes

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 were shot in Rome.[21] The film's climactic ball scene, which was shot in Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi in Palermo, became famous for its duration (it runs for over 46 minutes in the completed film) and opulence.

Lancaster called Visconti "the finest director I've ever worked with."[18] The scenes with Lancaster were shot in English and dubbed into Italian for the Italian version of the film, while most of the other scenes were filmed in Italian and dubbed into English for the English version.[18] Lancaster was dubbed by Corrado Gaipa, and his French co-star Alain Delon was dubbed by Carlo Sabatini. Archibald Colquhoun worked as the film's dialogue director.[22]

By May 1963, it was reported the film had cost Titanus $5 million.[23]


The Leopard has circulated in at least five different versions. Visconti's initial workprint was 205 minutes long, but both the director and producer felt it was too long, and the film was shortened to 195 minutes for its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Visconti then cut the film further—to 185 minutes—for its official Italian release, and considered this version to be his preferred one. In other European countries, the film was released in a 171-minute cut.

In the English-dubbed version of the film originally released in the U.S., the Italian and French actors were dubbed by different actors; Burt Lancaster and supporting actor Leslie French were the only ones who re-dubbed their own dialogue. This version was edited down to 161 minutes by its distributor 20th Century Fox, without Visconti's input, and he was unhappy with the cuts, dubbing, and print.[24][25] Visconti threatened to sue Fox, who threatened to counter-sue the director, arguing that Lancaster supervised the American cut.[26] "I don't feel it's my film at all," Visconti said of this version.[27]


The film debuted at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d'Or.[8]

The 185-minute version of the film was finally released in the U.S. in 1983.[28]


Box office[edit]

The film was successful in Europe. It grossed $370,000 its first 10 days of release in 8 Italian cities,[29] and was the sixth most popular film of the year at the French box office, with 3,688,024 admissions.[4][30] Despite being cut for U.S. release by Fox, the film didn't perform as well in the United States, with theatrical rentals of $1.8 million.[3][25]


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."[31] Jonathan Miller of The New Yorker derided Lancaster as "muzzled by whiskers and clearly stunned by the importance of his role."[31] However, Time Magazine praised Lancaster's characterization of the Leopard as solid and convincing.[31]


New York magazine called the now-famous ballroom scene "almost unbearably moving."[32] 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."[33]

Mark Lager, on Senses of Cinema, praised Giuseppe Rotunno's cinematography in the film as "baroque and elegiac" and "groundbreaking and reflective".[34]

The film's reputation continues to rise. Directors Martin Scorsese and Sydney Pollack (who had supervised the English-dubbing of the film) consider it to be one of the greatest ever made.[10][35] In the decennial poll of critics made by the British Film Institute, The Leopard was named the 57th greatest film of all time.[9]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 98% based on 48 reviews, with an average score of 9.1/10; the site's "critics consensus" reads: "Lavish and wistful, The Leopard features epic battles, sumptuous costumes, and a ballroom waltz that competes for most beautiful sequence committed to film."[36] On Metacritic, the 2004 re-release of the film holds a perfect 100 out of 100 score based on 12 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[37]

Awards and honors[edit]

Association Awards
Award Year Category Nominee Result
Academy Award 1964 Best Costume Design, Color Piero Tosi Nominated
David di Donatello 1963 Best Producer Goffredo Lombardo Nominated
Golden Globe Award 1964 New Star of the Year – Actor Alain Delon Nominated
Nastro d'Argento 1964 Best Director Luchino Visconti Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Romolo Valli Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Rina Morelli Nominated
Best Screenplay Luchino Visconti, Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Enrico Medioli,
Pasquale Festa Campanile, Massimo Franciosa
Best Cinematography, Color Giuseppe Rotunno Won
Best Production Design Mario Garbuglia Won
Best Costume Design Piero Tosi Won
Sant Jordi Awards 1964 Best Foreign Film Luchino Visconti Won
1991 Special Award Won
Critics Awards
Association Year Category Nominee Result
National Board of Review 1963 Top Foreign Films The Leopard Won
Film Festivals
Festival Year Category Nominee Result
Cannes Film Festival 1963 Palme d'Or Luchino Visconti[38] Won


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.[39] This restoration premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.[40]

Home media[edit]

There are several DVD editions of the film 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 with both the original audio (and Japanese subtitles), and a rare alternative English dubbed track that is different from that of the shortened U.S. version of the film. Special features include text-based bios and facts in Japanese. (This release is 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, some newly-created bonus materials, and the 161-minute U.S English-dubbed version in 1080i.


  1. ^ "Origine, filiation et famille dans l'oeuvre de René Barjavel (Clermont-Ferrand)".
  2. ^ "Biographie | René Barjavel - Écrivain, journaliste, scénariste | Futura Sciences".
  3. ^ a b "Top Rental Features of 1963". Variety. 8 January 1964. p. 71.
  4. ^ a b Box office information for The Leopard at Box Office Story
  5. ^ Alù, Giorgia (22 June 2020). "Guide to the Classics: The Leopard". The Conversation. Retrieved 29 August 2023.
  6. ^ The Leopard at the AFI Catalog of Feature Films
  7. ^ "The Leopard (1963)". BFI. Archived from the original on 2 March 2016. Retrieved 16 June 2021.
  8. ^ a b Ress, Paul (24 May 1963). "'The Leopard' Is Winner of Cannes Film Award". Chicago Tribune. p. a4.
  9. ^ a b "Critics' top 100 | BFI". Archived from the original on 7 February 2016.
  10. ^ a b "Scorsese's 12 favorite films". Miramax.com. Archived from the original on 26 December 2013. Retrieved 25 December 2013.
  11. ^ "Ecco i cento film italiani da salvare Corriere della Sera". Corriere della Sera. Retrieved 11 March 2021.
  12. ^ ITALIAN-U.S.FILM SET ON GARIBALDI: ' Leopard,' di Lampedusa's Novel, to Be Produced in Sicily by Titanus of Rome By EUGENE ARCHER. The New York Times 6 August 1960: 9.
  14. ^ A conversation with VISCONTI Gilliatt, Penelope. The Observer 10 Sep 1961: 17.
  15. ^ Archer, Eugene (1 July 1961). "M-G-M TO RELEASE FILM OF 'LEOPARD': Warren Beatty Sought for a Top Role in Italian Movie". The New York Times. p. 9.
  16. ^ Buford, Kate (2000). Burt Lancaster: An American Life. London: Aurum. pp. 222–227. ISBN 1-85410-740-2.
  17. ^ NEXT ROSSEN FILM TO BE 'COCO BEACH': Carnival Atmosphere of Cape Canaveral to Be Subject By EUGENE ARCHER. New York Times 8 November 1961: 40.
  18. ^ a b c Burt Lancaster Discovers a Sicilian Prince By Derek Prouse. The Christian Science Monitor 18 July 1962: 6.
  19. ^ BURT LANCASTER: CIRCUS ACROBAT CHANGES SPOTS FOR 'LEOPARD' Waldo, George. Los Angeles Times 21 October 1962: 6.
  20. ^ "2 SHORTS CHOSEN FOR FILM FESTIVAL". The New York Times. 18 April 1962. p. 30.
  21. ^ SOCIETY TO SHOW FILMS IN QUEENS: Programs of Shorts Planned for 23 May and 19 June By HOWARD THOMPSON. New York Times 12 May 1962: 15.
  22. ^ 'THE LEOPARD' IN ITS ORIGINAL LAIR: Care and Authenticity Mark screen Version of Modern Classic By HERBERT MITGANG. New York Times 29 July 1962: 69
  23. ^ Hawkins, Robert F. (5 May 1963). "Noted on the Italian Film Scene: Overextension Blamed By Industry Experts For Roman Crisis". The New York Times. p. 139.
  24. ^ Davies, Brenda (Spring 1964). "Can the Leopard...?". Sight and Sound. Vol. 33, no. 2. p. 99.
  25. ^ a b "Traumatic 'Leopard' Experience Made Visconti Skeptical, But Extols WB". Variety. 17 December 1969. p. 7.
  26. ^ "Backers of Film May Site to Stop Director's Attack". Chicago Tribune. 20 December 1963. p. b19.
  27. ^ Archer, Eugene (18 August 1963). "Artful Odyssey of an Aristocrat". The New York Times. p. 107.
  28. ^ Thomas, Kevin (30 October 1983). "Movies: Visconti's 'Leopard' Roars Anew". Los Angeles Times. p. u27.
  29. ^ "'Leopard' Racks Up $370,000 in 10 Days". Variety. 17 April 1963. p. 4.
  30. ^ "French Box Office in 1963". Box Office Story.
  31. ^ a b c Buford, Kate (2000). Burt Lancaster: An American Life. London: Aurum. p. 232. ISBN 1-85410-740-2.
  32. ^ "New York Magazine". Newyorkmetro.com. New York Media, LLC: 101. 10 October 1983. ISSN 0028-7369.
  33. ^ Canby, Vincent (11 September 1983). "FILM VIEW; AT 20, 'THE LEOPARD' IS FLEETER THAN EVER". The New York Times. p. A21. Review
  34. ^ Lager, Mark (2021). "Dreams of Italy's Past - Giuseppe Rotunno's Cinematography in Amarcord and The Leopard". Senses of Cinema.
  35. ^ "In the 2002 Sight & Sound Directors' Poll, Pollack revealed his top ten films in alphabetical order". BFI.org. Archived from the original on 26 June 2012. Retrieved 15 August 2023.
  36. ^ "The Leopard (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  37. ^ The Leopard (re-release), retrieved 27 October 2022
  38. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Leopard". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 27 February 2009.
  39. ^ "Gucci Extends Five-Year Partnership with Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation". fashionandrunway.com. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  40. ^ "Scorsese Restores The Leopard and Revives Cannes's Golden Age". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 20 March 2011.

External links[edit]