|Burt Lancaster and Alain Delon|
"I've had seven children with her and I've never seen her navel." -- Fabrizio referring to his wife.
During the tumultuous changes in 19th century Italy, the aristocratic Prince Fabrizio (Burt Lancaster) lives with his family in a palace with more rooms than he can count. His nephew, Tancredi (Alain Delon), joins Garibaldi's forces at first but fights for the king later on. The prince's daughter, Concetta (Lucilla Morlacchi), is in love with Tancredi, but the latter prefers the more beautiful Angelica (Claudia Cardinale), and not just because her father, Don Sedara (Paolo Stoppa), a former peasant, has become wealthy. Sedara is basically treated with contempt by the prince and his family because he represents a new type of Italian citizen, a type that Fabrizio fears will eventually supplant the aristocracy. The Leopard has its most interesting scenes in the first quarter, depicting the ravages of war, and the second half struggles to find strong human drama in its situations. You keep waiting for something to happen, but it never quite does. Will the triangle situation with Concetta, Tancredi, and Angelique cause major difficulties? No. Will Don Sedara stop acting the buffoon and tell off the prince and his relatives? No. Will Fabrizio's children resent how Tancredi is treated more like a son than a nephew? No. There's nothing necessarily wrong in a more low-key approach, but one wishes that there had been more incident and dramatic vitality considering the three hour running time.
Even more problematic is the fact that The Leopard, despite its interesting and often attractive period settings, is not that well-directed. Even the supposedly famous long ballroom sequence near the close of the film lacks the kind of sweep and pageantry, the especially skillful camera work, that one would find in similar scenes in American films. The Leopard simply lacks greatness. The film is much admired in certain quarters -- one imdb. critic certainly overstated things by claiming it might be "the greatest motion picture of all time" [!] -- and there are things to admire (Nino Rota has written a lovely score for the film, for instance) but the characters are mostly unsympathetic and the picture becomes tedious just when you're expecting things to really develop. It's as if some people think The Leopard must be great because it's three hours long and made in Italy.
As for the acting, it's hard to judge Lancaster's performance because it's dubbed -- and judging from the American version, which is about 25 minutes shorter and uses Lancaster's real voice -- it's just as well. In the U.S. version, Lancaster doesn't seem remotely like a 19th century Italian aristocrat; he did much, much better work in The Swimmer. Delon [Joy House] is more on the mark as his nephew, but Cardinale [Blindfold], who is not photographed that flatteringly, sometimes comes off as if she's mentally deficient. Stoppa, Morlacchi, and Romolo Valli as Father Perrone are more memorable.
Verdict: Watch The Damned or Ludwig instead. **.