Directed by Luchino Visconti and starring a stellar cast including Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, and Claudia Cardinale, this Italian film revolves around a Prince and Patriarch during a period of social change in Italy in the 1860s.
His Excellency the Prince of Salina (Lancaster) is a highly respected noble, who lives with his family on a large estate in Sicily. In his own life, the Prince is annoyed with his marriage and perturbed about the company his nephew Tancredi (Delon) is keeping. However, a revolution led by a man named Garibaldi means great change for the nation and finally following the lead of his nephew, who joins the rebel redshirts, the Prince sides with the new way and supports the plebiscites that are set up. His nephew falls for the beautiful daughter (Cardinale) of an aristocrat, and despite the fact that his own daughter has an eye on Tancredi, Don Fabrizo fully supports the marriage knowing it is good for the family. Because of his title and the respect he has garnered, the Prince is offered a position as a senator in the new government. But he courteously turns it down feeling he is too old and too attached to the old ways. Tancredi and Angelica are to be engaged and they are presented together at an extravagant ball. Over the course of the evening, Don Fabrizo has time to talk, dance with the young beauty Angelica, and reflect on his own life. As the lavish evening begins to dwindle the Leopard walks off to clear his head.
In some respects, I saw this as an Italian equivalent to Gone with the Wind, and I could see some precursors to The Godfather here because the Italians portrayed are very religious and chivalrous people who can also be ruthless. However, I think it is fair to say that The Leopard is its own film entirely, and it should be taken as such. Tancredi and Angelica are no Rhett and Scarlett and the Prince is not the Godfather. They are their own unique characters. In my personal opinion, I would recommend the Italian version because that is the way the director meant it to be seen and Lancaster’s normal voice seems out of place in the film. Some may say that this detracts from his performance, but I think his presence and acting ability show through even if he is dubbed.