The Leopard (1963 film)

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The Leopard
Original film poster
ItalianIl Gattopardo
Directed byLuchino Visconti
Screenplay byLuchino Visconti
Enrico Medioli
Massimo Franciosa
Suso Cecchi d'Amico
Pasquale Festa Campanile
René Barjavel[1][2]
Based onThe Leopard
(1958 novel)
by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Produced byGoffredo Lombardo
StarringBurt Lancaster
Alain Delon
Claudia Cardinale
Serge Reggiani
Paolo Stoppa
Rina Morelli
Romolo Valli
Mario Girotti
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
    • 195 minutes (Cannes cut)
    • 185 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') is a 1963 epic historical drama film directed by Luchino Visconti. Written by Visconti, Enrico Medioli, Massimo Franciosa, Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Pasquale Festa Campanile and René Barjavel, the film is an adaptation of the 1958 novel of the same title by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.[5]

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, Terence Hill and Serge Reggiani play supporting roles. The film was an international co-production between Italian studio Titanus and French studio Pathé.[6]

The Leopard won the Palme d’Or at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival,[7] 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, drawn from 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.[8][9]


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 Salinas, 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 of Salina and Don Calogero, Tancredi and Angelica get engaged.

A visitor from the constituent assembly comes to the villa. He pleads with the noblemen gathered there to join the senate and to guide the state; he hopes 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 Sicily prefers its traditions to the delusions of modernity because its people are proud of their ancient heritage. He sees a future where the leopards and the lions, along with the sheep and the jackals, will all live according to the same law, but he does not want to be a part of this democratic vision.

He notices that Tancredi has shifted allegiance from the insurgent Garibaldi to King Vittorio's newly-formed army, and wistfully judges that his nephew is the kind of opportunist and time-server who will flourish in the new Italy.

A great ball is held at the villa of a neighbouring Prince which is attended by the Salinas including Tancredi. Afflicted by a combination of melancholia and the ridiculousness of the nouveau riche, the Prince wanders forlornly from chamber to chamber, increasingly disaffected by the entire edifice of the society he so gallantly represents – until Angelica approaches and asks him to dance. Stirred and momentarily released from his cares, the Prince accepts, and once again he recaptures and presents the elegant and dashing figure of his past.

However, he becomes disenchanted and leaves the ball alone. He asks Tancredi to arrange carriages for his family, and walks with a heavy heart to a dark alley that symbolises Italy's inordinate and fading past which he inhabits.


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

The original novel had been a bestseller and won the Strega Prize, Italy's most prestigious literary award. In August 1960, Italian studio Titanus Film announced that they would make a film based on the novel in Sicily the following summer on a budget of at least $2 million. The movie would 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.[10]

Several treatments were reportedly done before Visconti became involved.[11] "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."[12]

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 the nephew, while Visconti approached Laurence Olivier and Spencer Tracy to play the lead.[13]

Visconti was told by producers that they needed to cast a star in order to ensure that 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.[14] The producers chose Hollywood star Lancaster without consulting Visconti, which insulted the director and caused tension on the set; but Visconti and Lancaster ended up working well together, and their resulting friendship lasted the rest of their lives.[15]

In November, Lancaster agreed to play the lead with filming to start in April.[16] Lancaster said he had been "long fascinated" with The Leopard even before being offered the role. "I think it is the best written and most perceptive study of a man and his background that has appeared for many years."[17] He had doubts about accepting the part because "the novel was so perfect as a novel" but decided to accept.[18]

In April 1962, 20th Century Fox announced it had bought the distribution rights to the movie.[19]


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 would be shot in Rome.[20] The ball scene (over 44 minutes) in Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi in Palermo became famous for its duration and opulence.

Lancaster called Visconti "the finest director I've ever worked with."[17] All the scenes with Lancaster would be shot in English, and dubbed into Italian for the Italian version; other scenes would be filmed in Italian then dubbed into English for the English version.[17] Lancaster was dubbed by Corrado Gaipa, and his French co-star Alain Delon was dubbed by Carlo Sabatini. Archibald Colquhoun worked as dialogue director.[21]

By May 1963, it was reported the film had cost Titanus $5 million.[22]


The Leopard has circulated in at least four different versions:

  • Visconti's initial workprint was 205 minutes long, but was felt to be excessive in length by both the director and producer, and was shortened to 195 minutes for its Cannes Film Festival premiere.
  • Visconti then cut the film further to 185 minutes for its official release, and considered this version to be his preferred one.
  • The U.S English-dubbed version, in which the Italian and French actors were dubbed over (except for Burt Lancaster, who re-dubbed his own dialogue), was edited down to 161 minutes by its distributor 20th Century Fox. This was done without Visconti's input, and he was unhappy with the cuts, dubbing and print.[23][24] Visconti threatened to sue Fox, who threatened to counter-sue the director, arguing that Lancaster supervised the American cut.[25] "I don't feel it's my film at all," he said of this version.[26]


The film debuted at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Palme d'Or.[7]

The 185-minute edition was re-released in the US in 1983.[27]


Box office[edit]

The film was successful in Europe. It grossed $370,000 in its first 10 days from 8 Italian cities[28] and was the sixth most popular film of the year at the French box office, with admissions of 3,688,024.[4][29] Despite being cut for US release by Fox, the film didn't perform as well in the United States with theatrical rentals of $1.8 million.[3][24]


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."[30] Jonathan Miller of The New Yorker derided Lancaster as "muzzled by whiskers and clearly stunned by the importance of his role."[30] However, Time Magazine praised the characterization of the Leopard as solid and convincing.[30]


New York magazine called the now-famous ballroom scene "almost unbearably moving."[31] 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."[32]

The film's reputation continues to rise. Director Martin Scorsese considers the film to be one of the greatest ever made.[9]

In the decennial poll made by the British Film Institute, it was named the 57th greatest film of all time selected by critics.[8]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 98% based on 48 reviews, with an average of 9.1/10. The site's critical 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."[33] On Metacritic, the 2004 re-release holds a perfect 100 out of 100 score based on 12 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim."[34]

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, Enrico Medioli, Massimo Franciosa,
Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Pasquale Festa Campanile
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[35] 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.[36] This restoration premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival to great fanfare.[37]

Home media[edit]

There are several DVD editions 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 in the original audio (Japanese subs), and a rare alternative English dubbed track (different from the shorter U.S version). Extras are text based bios and facts in Japanese. This release is also 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 plus newly created ones, 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. ^ The Leopard at the American Film Institute Catalog
  6. ^ "The Leopard (1963)". BFI. Retrieved 16 June 2021.
  7. ^ a b Ress, Paul (24 May 1963). "'The Leopard' Is Winner of Cannes Film Award". Chicago Tribune. p. a4.
  8. ^ a b "Critics' top 100 | BFI".
  9. ^ a b "Scorsese's 12 favorite films". Archived from the original on 26 December 2013. Retrieved 25 December 2013.
  10. ^ 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.
  12. ^ A conversation with VISCONTI Gilliatt, Penelope. The Observer 10 Sep 1961: 17.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Buford, Kate (2000). Burt Lancaster: An American Life. London: Aurum. p. 222. ISBN 1-85410-740-2.
  15. ^ Buford, Kate (2000). Burt Lancaster: An American Life. London: Aurum. pp. 222–227. ISBN 1-85410-740-2.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ a b c Burt Lancaster Discovers a Sicilian Prince By Derek Prouse. The Christian Science Monitor 18 July 1962: 6.
  18. ^ BURT LANCASTER: CIRCUS ACROBAT CHANGES SPOTS FOR 'LEOPARD' Waldo, George. Los Angeles Times 21 October 1962: 6.
  19. ^ "2 SHORTS CHOSEN FOR FILM FESTIVAL". The New York Times. 18 April 1962. p. 30.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ '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
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ Davies, Brenda (Spring 1964). "Can the Leopard...?". Sight and Sound. Vol. 33, no. 2. p. 99.
  24. ^ a b "Traumatic 'Leopard' Experience Made Visconti Skeptical, But Extols WB". Variety. 17 December 1969. p. 7.
  25. ^ "Backers of Film May Site to Stop Director's Attack". Chicago Tribune. 20 December 1963. p. b19.
  26. ^ Archer, Eugene (18 August 1963). "ARTFUL ODYSSEY OF AN ARISTOCRAT". The New York Times. p. 107.
  27. ^ Thomas, Kevin (30 October 1983). "MOVIES: VISCONTI'S 'LEOPARD' ROARS ANEW". Los Angeles Times. p. u27.
  28. ^ "'Leopard' Racks Up $370,000 in 10 Days". Variety. 17 April 1963. p. 4.
  29. ^ "French Box Office in 1963". Box Office Story.
  30. ^ a b c Buford, Kate (2000). Burt Lancaster: An American Life. London: Aurum. p. 232. ISBN 1-85410-740-2.
  31. ^ "New York Magazine". New York Media, LLC: 101. 10 October 1983. ISSN 0028-7369.
  32. ^ Canby, Vincent (11 September 1983). "FILM VIEW; AT 20, 'THE LEOPARD' IS FLEETER THAN EVER". The New York Times. p. A21.
  33. ^ "The Leopard (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  34. ^ The Leopard (re-release), retrieved 27 October 2022
  35. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Leopard". Retrieved 27 February 2009.
  36. ^ "Gucci Extends Five-Year Partnership with Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation". Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  37. ^ "Scorsese Restores The Leopard and Revives Cannes's Golden Age". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 20 March 2011.

External links[edit]