Leopard (1963)




Director: Luchino Visconti

Starring:  Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon, Paolo Stoppa, Rina Morelli, Romolo Valli

Sicily after Italian unification



"Sicily in the 1800s. Prince Salina, a great landowner, has to watch the decrease of his power and influence after 'Il Risorgimento', the unification of Italy. The upper classes try to ignore the nationalist movements and the prince is uncertain of his own feelings."  (Source: Amazon.com)

This is a rather slow moving movie.  My wife and I were a bit bored with the slow pace.  But I read that one of Visconti's favorite themes was the slow disintegration of the family  --  and I do mean slow.

The time is around 1859 in Sicily.  Italy was still very much divided politically.  King Ferdinand II ruled over the Bourbon states of Naples and Sicily, while the Savoy States were ruled by Victor Emmanuel.  Emmanuel would win the day partly because of his teaming with the revolutionary Garibaldi, who won victories in the field.  And in 1859 it was Sicily's turn to face military occupation. 

The problem with that the family here, that of Prince Salina (Burt Lancaster), is that the head of the family is too set in the old ways of Sicily where the wealthy ruled without much opposition.  The Leopard, Prince Salina, finds it virtually impossible to adapt the new changes brought by a new united Italy.  He won't even accept a seat in the equivalent of the Senate.  In his refusal of the position, he waxes eloquently (and somewhat stupidly) how things must change to remain the same and that Sicilians feel they have already achieved perfection, so why all the need for real change. 

The Prince's nephew, Tancredi Falconeri (Alain Delon), does adapt.  He joins the forces of Garibaldi when they land on Sicily.  And later, when Garibaldi loses his front runner status, jumps over to the established army of King Victor Emmanuel.  The nephew also drops a possible marriage to his wealthy cousin, for marriage with the mayor's beautiful daughter (Claudia Cardinale).  (The mayor represents the growing power of the nouveau-riche which the Prince has to reluctantly adapt.)  

But not the Prince.  He becomes somewhat morose and appears resigned to his own death.   He does not rise to the occasion to protect his family and make sure they prospered.  

I can't feel too much sympathy for the Prince, since I do not like aristocracy.  There is little similarity between the Prince and Scarlett O'Hara, who both faced the devastation of their respective highly-privileged classes, for Scarlett was a fighter and a scraper.  The Prince would rather roll over and play dead.   


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


Italian unification (called in Italian the Risorgimento or "Resurgence")

early 19th century  --  inspired by the French Revolution, a secret organization formed in southern Italy known as the Carbonari (coal-burners) was one of the most influential revolutionary groups in Italy.

1814  --  the Carbonari began organizing revolutionary activities in Naples.

1815   --  following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, the Congress of Vienna doled out parts the Italian peninsula among the prevailing European powers, resulting in a political patchwork  The Austrian Empire and the Habsburgs controlled northeastern Italy and used their power to fight against any Italian unification.  Austrian Chancellor Klemens Wenzel von Metternick said the word Italy was "purely a geographic expression."

post-Congress of Vienna  --  the Carbonari spread into:  the Papal States, the kingdom of Sardinia, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Duchy of Modena, and the kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia.  The Carbonari were feared by the authorities -- so much so that anyone attending a meeting of the group would be condemned to death. 

by 1820  --  the Carbonari invaded Naples with its own army and forced the king to promise to implement a new Carbonari-written constitution. 

1821  --  the Carbonari rebellion was put down the following year by the Austrians (as part of the "Holy Alliance" between Austria, Prussia and Russia). 

1822  --  Alessandro Manzoni published I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), a critique of Austrian rule, which stirred Italian nationalistic fervor.  

1830  --  a series of insurrections broke out in the future Italy. 

1831  --  the Austrians crossed Italy putting down the rebellions.

1831  --  Giuseppe Mazzini, a native of Genoa, founded the new political society known as "Young Italy", which sought the unification of Italy. 

1834  --  Giuseppe Garibaldi, a native of Nice, participated in an uprising in Piedmont and was sentenced to death.  He fled to South American. 

1848  --  a rebellion broke out in France and King Louis Philippe was forced to flee; a republic was proclaimed. Soon the revolutionary fervor spread through the European continent. 

1848  --  The First Independence War.  In the future Italy, revolutionaries forced constitutions upon most of the Italian rulers.

Charles Albert, the King of Sardinia, decided to make Italy free and declared war on Austria. He was decisively defeated at the Battle of Custoza.

1848  --  Garibaldi returned to Italy.

1849-1852  --  Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte (1808-1873) was President of France.

1849  --  radical Italian nationalists proclaimed a Roman Republic.  Charles Albert renewed his war with Austria, but again was decisively defeated Novara (march 23).  Rome capitulated to the French who decided to support the Pope.  Garibaldi and Mazzini once again fled into exile.

1850  --  Garibaldi became a resident of New York City. 

1852-1870  --  Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte was the Emperor of the French under the name Napoléon III. The Carbonari condemned Napoleon II to death for failing to unite Italy and tried, unsuccessfully,  to assassinate.

1852  -- in Piedmont, Camillo di Cavour became prime minister.

1855  --  in the Crimean War, Austria was left politically isolated. 

1858 (summer)  --  Cavour met with Napoleon III at PlombiPres and agreed to a joint war against Austria.

1859-1861  -- The Second Independence War

1859 (June 4)  --  the French and Sardinians defeated the Austrians at Magenta; the Austrians withdrew from most of Lombardy; Napoleon and Victor Emmanuel made a triumphant entrance into Milan.

1859 (June 24)  --the French defeated the Austrians (under Emperor Franz Joseph himself)  at Solferino.

1859 (July 11)  --  France and Austria agreed to peace. 

1860 (March 20)  --  the Kingdom of Sardinia now encompassed most of Northern and Central Italy.  There were now only four states remaining in the future Italy:  the Austrians in Venetia, the Papal States, the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

1860 (May 6)  --  Garibaldi and a thousand Italian volunteers steamed from near Genoa to near Marsala on the west coast of Sicily.  They defeated the opposing army at Calatafimi on the 13th. 

1860 (May 14)  --  Garibaldi proclaimed himself dictator of Sicily, in the name of Victor Emmanuel.  His next triumph was the capture of Palermo.  In another seven weeks he captured Messina.  He then crossed the Straits of Messina and proceeded northward until he captured Naples itself.  Garibaldi wanted to march on Rome but this was a dangerous political move. 

1860 (September 29)  --  the Papal troops under Lamoriciere were defeated by forces under Cialdini and surrendered.  This was the end of the papal army.

In Sessa, Garibaldi turned over his dictatorial powers to Victor Emmanuel with the title of King of Italy. After they both entered Naples, Garibaldi retired to the island of Caprera.  

1862  --  at the Battle of Aspromonte, general Enrico Cialdini defeated, wounded and captured Giuseppe Garibaldi. (Aspromonte is a mountain close to Reggio, overlooking the Strait of Messina.) 

1866 (December)  --  the last of the French troops departed from Rome, thereby freeing Italy from the presence of foreign soldiers for the first time in around a thousand years.

1866   --  Third Independence War.  During the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary.  The Italians did not do well, but neither did the Austrians.  In the end, Italy gained Venetia. 

Garibaldi marched his army into the Tyrol, defeating the Austrians at Bezzecca.  He was called back before any possible assault on Trento. 

1867  --  Garibaldi failed in his second attempt to capture Rome.  He was defeated by the Papal army with some French support.  Garibaldi was captured and held captive shortly before being returned to Caprera. 

1870  --  Franco-Prussian War.  Prussia won this war.  The French were too weak to protect Rome.  The Italian government declared war against the Papal States and the Italian army entered Rome.

1882  --  death of Garibaldi. 

end of WWI  --  Italian unification was complete.



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