Visconti has tried to encompass the whole of Lampedusa's novel in [The Leopard] and to include all its incidents and all its characters. He has succeeded in doing so. However, even three and a half hours aren't sufficient for such a task, and the result is that events and characters are sketchy. The American spectator unfamiliar with the details of the Italian Risorgimento [the movement for the liberation and unification of Italy between 1750 and 1870] is going to be a bit lost. This will not trouble the Italian spectator, who is fully acquainted with these characters, but for the rest of us they remain only puppet figures….
Many of what seem at first to be faults in the film can be justified, or at least explained, by the novel itself. As the camera travels interminably up the walls of Palermo palazzi, lovingly scrutinizing gilded cherubs, frescoes, and damask draperies, one thinks—this is typical Visconti, with his usual lack of restraint, indulging his love for the beautiful, the baroque and the decadent. Turning to the book, however, we find that the author devotes page after page to describing the opulence surrounding a class for whom refinement and elegance were the only values that made life worth living. (p. 35)
The film's chief fault is its slowness and paucity of action, in keeping with the novel, which consists primarily of the inner thoughts of a perceptive man, the Prince. The sombre mood of the book was relieved by frequent flashes of wit. Lampedusa's prince had a subtle sense of humor apparently polished during frequent sojourns in London, and he was thus able to look with amused detachment on some aspects of his role of a Sicilian aristocrat. There is no hint of this in the film, humor being difficult for Visconti. Visconti has chosen not to go into the details of Sicily's role in the Risorgimento. Had he done so, the film doubtlessly would have had greater significance. Visconti, as a count and advocate of the Italian Communist Party, could easily have used this film as an attack on the aristocracy, its ideological deficiencies and its reactionary philosophy of history; instead, like the Prince of Salina, the aristocrat has won, and instead of an attack Visconti has given us an elegy on the passing of a way of life he loves. (pp. 35-6)
Robert Connelly, "3 Italian Films," in Film Comment (copyright © 1963 by Lorien Productions, Inc.; all rights reserved), Vol. I, No. 6, Fall, 1963, pp. 34-8.∗