13 DECEMBER 1963, Page 22

Noble of Sicily


The Leopard. (Carlton.)—

The Man from the

Diners' Club. (Columbia

and general release.)

(Both `LP certificate.) IF a pearl diver were to write a book about pearl diving which was then filmed by one of the world's leading directors; and out of the world's handful of leading direc- tors--perhaps the first dozen or so—one hap- pened to belong to a family of pearl divers and knew the whole business in his bones, felt and breathed what the book was talking about as no outsider really could, we should all exclaim at the coincidence and the luck : a film-maker whose background happened to be just that of his subject, when the subject (by almost every- one's standards) was so exotic. For pearl diver read nobleman in a sense we scarcely know in this country, something far more remote, more ancient, more conscious (and self-conscious) than our society allows, and this is just what has hap- pened in the case of The Leopard.

The length of Italy may divide a Sicilian nobleman from a Milanese, or a Lampedusa from a Visconti; the way of life of a left-wing film director may seem hilariously remote from that of the late ungregarious Palerman prince; and a millennium rather than a century may seem to lie between the 1860s, when the book begins, and today. But Lampedusa's novel has a way of bridging time and space and even temperament and seeming relevant to our own day, even to the extent of involving its author (as it has clearly involved Visconti too) in a movingly personal and private dilemma. For it is .an insider's book, inside a narrow and untenable world, and so deep in its subject that a-century- doesn't really divide its events from its author. Lampedusa may have based his hero on his own great-grandfather, but the tone is so involved, so intimate, it seems self-questioning, auto- biographical; and the hero's predicament, strung between his own past (the centuries of power and glory) and the family's inevitable future in a world that will soon have no place for it, seems to mirror Lampedusa's own, torn as he must have been between his own position as an intelligent modern man (or at least a man who lived intelligently, if remotely, in the modern world) and his mysterious, almost mystical ap- preciation, savouring, reliving, of the past. It is just this extraordinary rightness of tone and temper, of gesture and style and face and decora- tion, that Visconti has caught visually: some- thing much more than nostalgia--re-creation.

Visconti has taken the early part of the book —the part set in the 1860s, when Garibaldi seems to be turning the old world upside down, though, in fact, as we soon see, it very soon bobs up again, more or less where it was before—and so his story is compact and rounded, full of irony but not of bitterness. What he has caught best is the novel's easy mixture of the personal and the public, the unembarrassed realisation that private action in certain men'is bound to be public and symptomatic; that politics isn't some- thing reserved for special occasions or confined to the business of government, but a matter of attitude, sympathy, daily life. All this Visconti conveys in images of almost painful exactness and beauty, with faces and decoration and land-

and- scape managing to put across the particular irony needed, the particular sympathy or antipathy or mixture of the two. I shall never forget, for in- stance, a marvellously eloquent scene in which the entire Salina family goes into church for the Te Deum of thanksgiving for their safe arrival across dangerous country; and while the raucous singing rises round them we see them in a row along the stalls, covered in white country dust from head to foot, ghostlike grey figures ex- hausted by the ceremonial of their rank, for a moment strangely and even beautifully mono- chrome in a coloured world.

Again and again Visconti achieves this kind of uncontrived-looking splendour and meaning, and not only gets impeccable performances from his actors, but actually manages to modify their looks in a remarkable way to suit an attitude or a mood: thus Alain Delon at his most charm- ing has Tancredi's equivocal slyness, and (more obviously) Claudia Cardinale as Angelica, the rich beauty he marries, is cruelly coarsened in looks by comparison with the plainer long-nosed girls around her, because we are conditioned by everything else, by the whole atmosphere of the period, to look at her with the eyes of a hundred years ago, which didn't admire broad, modern, photogenic faces with large mouths.

It is this transference of taste, of attitude, that Visconti achieves all through the film, so that we don't seem to be looking back at another age, but to be part of it; which, paradoxically, gives it all the kind of timelessness the novel had. For by involving us so closely in what happens it makes it seem relevant to us—xsthetically rele- vant, psychologically and in particular politically relevant. And Burt Lancaster's extraordinary performance as the Prince of Salina is the most remarkable piece of transference of the lot. Rumours of his excellence in this (perhaps sur- prising) part made it seem less surprising than it might have done. It is a complex part, and our reactions to the prince must be complex; and through him are filtered all kinds of atti- tudes, Lampedusa's, Visconti's, all complex. Then his attractiveness as a person, as a man, must filter (again, as it did in the novel) his am- biguousness as a public figure: trimmer or realist, patriot or Sicilian or the lot.

I have not seen the original version of this film, and would go a long way to do so. There seems no doubt that this is a cut version, and particularly that the colour is almost incompar- ably poorer than it was. The dubbing I found tolerable: after all, the cast is international, so in any language some of the characters would have had to be dubbed, and in this case we have the- enormous advantage of having Lancaster speaking for himself—also Leslie French, whose English English, in contrast with Lancaster's, has a weirdly appropriate effect in its particular political context (or maybe this is splitting hairs). In any case, botched, dubbed or miscoloured, The Leopard is still magnificent: Visconti, the socially equivocal, the politically equivocal, at last seems assured, at ease.

On a small front Frank Tashlin is the object of fierce hero-worship, but The Man from the Diners' Club, though it has some of his deftness and dizziness, is mostly soggy, in spite of having Danny Kaye. Or rather because of having Danny Kayc grotesquely miscast as the little fellow scared of noises and machines and hilariously inefficient at his job, when his whole physique and his spry, good-scout face proclaim his physi-

cal efficiency. He has his moments, of course, but they're all out of character: moments of virtuosity when he does one of his impersona- tions. Other moments worth watching are all when he's off-screen.