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.