Burt Lancaster joins of one of many of the American or international leads taking on the center role of an Italian film...often in Italian. Well having both watched the film in Italian and all of Lancaster's scenes in English, with his own vocal performance, that's is just something to note more than anything else. What the film though does offer a rather a different role for Lancaster, who was perhaps one of the more covertly versatile actors of his period. This as Lancaster inhabits this role from the first scene of the film as we see his Prince taking in a prayer service with his family, before receiving somewhat troubling news of the ongoing revolution around them. Even with his own voice Lancaster embodies this role beautifully in a rather unique way among his own work. This is as Lancaster is almost always a commanding presence. That is just part of his nature as a performer, but what is striking here is how he manages to deliver that in a wholly different way as the prince. His whole physical manner here is remarkable in the way he creates such a powerful presence. This with a perfectly dignified walk, fitting to a royalty that was bred to be as such, but everything he does here Lancaster does so with that regal quality. What is most essential in this, and in a way more notable, is that Lancaster does so with such a genuine ease and grace. Lancaster makes for a most convincing Italian royal, through this brilliant adjustment toward his typical presence, that uses that power but in a new way.
The Leopard, along with director Luchino Visconti's previous film, Rocco and His Brothers, was undoubtedly a great influence on the far better known The Godfather, with all films being about the life of an Italian family. Where "Rocco" you can see perhaps the influence on the life of the family and sibling dynamics of the Corleone family, here though it is difficult not to see at least some influence on the patriarch of the Corleone'sm, Vito, in Lancaster's prince. This is evident within Lancaster's performance, who just visually isn't a far cry from Brando's appearance in that film, but the comparison stretches further than this. This is as we find the Prince who is essentially our hero in the film, though like Vito, a hero who seeks to maintain the way of life and prominence of his family, whom the viewer may or may not agree with. The method of the man is perhaps what sells the sympathies, which is so impeccably realized by Lancaster's portrayal. This as the prince is a man of this quiet power. Again realized in Lancaster's work, where that ease in manner just carries the immediate strength of the man, but as does his voice that carries this careful precision. This as Lancaster finds something essential in his portrayal which is a careful intelligence that the prince uses to ensure his family survives within the upheaval around him.
Lancaster delivers on the expected confidence within the character which he exudes in every encounter. This even when speaking of the most potentially troublesome developments Lancaster's eyes conveys the right degree of calculation as though the prince is immediately deciding on what his next move needs to be. The essential facet though, that I would say is most similar to Vito, and helps to design that sympathy for the man is this unquestioned concern for his family. This is as Lancaster delivers this understated, yet palatable warmth within the role. This particularly well shown as he wishes his nephew, Tancredi (Alain Delon), good fortune in actually joining the rebel army even donating something to it. Lancaster keeps a reserved expression, but is magnificent in delivery such an overpowering still, sense of affection for the young man. In that moment too, Lancaster finds just the right degree of wistful optimism in the encouragement. This is as Lancaster is able to express in the moment, care for his family but also an enjoyment of the the idea of the idealism of joining in the fight. Lancaster holds back enough though as he still keeps the prince within his station as a prince, who theoretically should support the old guard, but carries this natural sense of the appreciation for those potentially trying to create a better world.
That revolution is technically successful however it is worked for the royals to maintain position through a constitutional monarchy, which the prince endorses. This in a series of a few of the public scenes of the prince as he works his will to ensure the survival of his family, by dealing with some corrupt men, or at least all too eager to find power. Lancaster is outstanding in carrying the technically manipulative charisma within the prince. There is a particularly great scene where the prince goes to vote in a fixed election that will maintain his family's prominence essentially through the creation of allies. Lancaster's fantastic in the scene as he's able to carefully play the scene so we see the prince's manipulation even as he's technically had compromised to meet his goal. Lancaster delivers this perfect twinkle in his eye as he charms the local corrupt Don, through his voting, while also carefully ensuring no disfavor comes to his family's priest who likely would not vote the expected way. Lancaster's magnificent because in every moment we see him as the man in command of the situation even as the prince plays into the fix. This with his bright smile that appeases the crowd, but still with the quick incisive eyes of the man who knows he is working his will.
In private though we find a different man, where Lancaster too excels in creating the very real sense of the man. This particularly in the private discussions with his priest. Lancaster again delivers two things so well in this the first again being that genuine warmth. This even extends to discussing his own reasons for adultery, which Lancaster manages to speak without excessive hypocrisy, underlined perhaps as he speaks every moment regarding his family with that with only this honest concern. This that he underlines more with a strict passion as he discusses his reasons for his own political maneuvers. He calmly explains the needs for his family's survival with a striking devotion and even a humble sincerity regarding the path. Lancaster is captivating but also creates the essential concern for his position. This is particularly essential again, as Lancaster makes one care for the royal family maintaining their status, just as Vito Corleone did so for his criminal enterprise. Lancaster embodies a the true sense of the leader as he advocates for his position, not through grand statements but through precise action and compromise. This even to the point he rejects potential real power as a senator, which again Lancaster is outstanding by managing to convey in the moment of rejection again this repressed enthusiasm showing that while the prince's heart would be in it, his sense forces him against it.
The film ends as he sees the success of those who are the most opportunistic, and perhaps not the most principled, succeed including his nephew Tancredi, who switches from the revolutionary to the royal army without a second thought. This technically culminating in an alliance as Tancredi marries the daughter of the opportunistic Don, Angelica (Claudia Cardinale), to their mutual benefit. Lancaster, as great as he is in the rest of the film, is downright extraordinary in the final sequence celebrating essentially the new alliance and really the new world. This sequence doesn't even require one to watch the film with Lancaster's voice, as he carries such a poignancy just within his face throughout the sequences. This as the prince goes off to passively look upon the extravagance of those around him and the somewhat questionable fruits of his labor. The sense of melancholia is particularly moving as there is almost the sense of second guessing all that he has played for, in the quietly, yet so strikingly distraught expression as he looks upon seemingly nothing of value around him. The one respite in this being in seeing the young couple of Angelica and Tancredi, which despite the opportunistic pairing do genuinely love each other. The expression of this is best scene in the moment where the prince dances with Angelica. This in the brief moment Lancaster evokes the spark of the prince so beautifully as he looks upon her with the eyes of appreciation for some future, or at least something worthwhile within it. This is but a respite though as after this moment, the prince resigns himself as basically a fading past. Lancaster's amazing again as delivers that understated yet so resonate in his portrayal of this despair, of a man accepting yet still haunted by essentially being an extinct breed. This is an incredible performance by Burt Lancaster, that is unlike any other performance of his I've seen, in delivering this rather effortless yet always compelling depiction of a man both strict in his conviction for his family though with the intelligence to know when to compromise for that conviction.