The Leopard

Sicily - Palermo
The Governor’s Palace, Palermo, Sicily

Movie: The Leopard (1963), Starring Bert Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon

John Keahey,the author of Seeking Sicily, calls the book, The Leopard: A Novel, (not to be confused with Jo Nesbo’s latest mystery by the same name) a blockbuster and essential reading to understand Sicily. Although I’d like to read the book (1956) some day, I cheated and watched the movie, made in 1963.

You see, I’ll watch just about any movie with Burt Lancaster  (1913-1994). I love the way he moves. I love his sense of power and the feeling you get that he has a secret. From his sexy days on the beach with Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity, to his  dramatic role inCome Back Little Sheba , to his old man role on the boardwalk of Atlantic City , he was a gem of a movie star. This article lists the incredible Lancaster films, in case you’ve missed them. And, getting back to the subject at hand–Lancaster plays the Prince who represents the sinking aristocrat based on the book author’s own grandfather.

I also ordered up The Leopard  from Netflix because of Keahey’s recommendation of The Leopard and because I love movies that convey the history of a place I want to visit. I love movies with beautiful scenery and an authentic portrayal of a culture. And from what I read, it appears that the movie is fairly true to the book. The book relates the story of the mid-1800’s in Sicily, a time of upheaval for the aristocracy, who had been loyal to the Bourbon royalty. However, the movement for a united Italy headed by Garibaldi appealed to them until they decided they would be better off under an Italian King than a democratic Italy, and went with the first King of a United Italy.

The settings are grand–palaces on ancestral estates in Southwest Sicily. And the narrow hilly streets of the towns are appealing, but I could not help feeling that movie was almost too true to the original New York Times travel article, I realized just how good a guide to Sicily the movie actually is.

I could not help feeling that the movie stuck too close to the book. Most of the film moves along at a stately pace, but the last 40 minutes takes place at a ball where all is character development, and nothing moves the plot forward. My feeling is not shared by a lot of eminent critics and you can read what Roger Ebert had to say about The Leopard in 2003.

The political tugs and pulls on the Prince and the buffoonish Mayor (although not made clear in the movie, he’s a Mafia member, and a fairly typical one according to the author we discuss on Friday) definitely are fascinating. You will come away from this book, or the movie understanding a good deal more about the historic politics of Sicily than you knew before.

In the conversation most representative of the Sicilian character, the Prince is asked to run for the Senate in the newly unified Italy. He refuses, explaining that

“Too many things have been done without Sicilians being consulted for you to be able now–to ask a member of the old governing class to help develop things and carry them through...” Sicilians, he says, only want to sleep.  “…they will always hate anyone who tries to wake them, even in order to bring the most wonderful gifts; and I must say, between ourselves, I have  strong doubts whether the new Kingdom will have many gifts for us in its luggage.”

Yes, despite the fact that it may seem a bit slow for the modern audience, the film is still gorgeous and enticing to the traveler to Sicily. I’d say add it to your traveler’s library, unless you’d rather read the book.

Have you been to Sicily?  Did you get a feeling of the complexity of their history?

Disclaimer: The photo at the top comes from Flickr and is used under Creative Commons license. Please click on the photo to learn more about the photographer. The movie trailer comes from You Tube.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

5 thoughts on “The Leopard

  1. The movie sounds interesting- although, (as you mentioned) a bit slow at parts. It would be nice to see to understand a bit about Sicily and their historical background. Not sure who is Burt Lancaster- so it will also be nice to see so I can see how he acts.

    1. I am SHOCKED, SHOCKED that you are not familiar with Burt Lancaster. On the other hand, what a wonderful treat you have in store. Do you download movies from Netflix or Amazon or somewhere? Why not start your own Burt Lancaster marathon. You can hardly go wrong, but you might want to start with his Oscar nominated roles: Elmer Gantry (a study of evil that I think you’d find provocative);From Here to Eternity; Birdman of Alcatraz;and Atlantic City. His role in Come Back Little Sheba was a breakthrough role establishing him as a dramatic actor rather than just a pretty face. And I personally loved The Swimmer, which was an odd kind of film–a sort of satire on suburban life. After all, who can not admire a 54-year-old man who allows himself to be filmed nude (although it was not terribly revealing, he never lost his trapeeze-artist body.

      1. I’m tempted to tackle the topic of nude male actors, but will steer clear and second Vera’s observation about the ball scene in The Leopard. A similar intentional slowing of a film is employed more successfully in Monster’s Ball, where it is used at the beginning rather than the end of an otherwise steadily-paced story.

        1. To be fair, we certainly understand the characters more deeply after that ballroom scene–particularly the Prince. And it is to Lancaster’s credit that he does not overact where it certainly must have been tempting.

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