New DVDs: Rossellini’s Historical Films

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In 1963, Robert Rossellini announced that he was quitting the cinema, and promptly went on to make some of the most interesting films in his multiform career. The Criterion Collection has now released four of Rossellini’s “educational films,” made for French and Italian television. “The Taking of Power by Louis XIV” – Criterion has gone for a literal translation of the French title, rather than the usual “The Rise of Louis XIV” – gets the deluxe Criterion treatment, complete with a “multimedia essay” by Tag Gallagher and a plain old printy one by Colin MacCabe, while “The Age of the Medici,” “Cartesius” and “Blaise Pascal” are packaged into a set on the no-frills Eclipse label, titled “Rossellini’s History Films: Renaissance and Enlightenment.” Fascinating stuff, not least for the way Rossellini’s frontal staging and non-psychological performances seem to anticipate much of the modernist cinema to come from, among others, Manoel de Oliveira and Hou Hsiao-hsien. My New York Times review is here.

243 comments to New DVDs: Rossellini’s Historical Films

  • Arthur S.

    Thanks Miguel for sharing your insight.

    I do agree with all that you say. “Germany Year Zero” definitely is a German film, the actors are German non-professionals and if the film was dubbed into Italian or English, the radio broadcast of Hitler speaking would make no sense at all unless they(YES) decide to dub Hitler’s real voice with a German accented English speaker. And speaking of seeing RIO BRAVO in Italian, when I visited Spain once, I had a chance to see the Hawks on TV, dubbed and it actually made me realize what dubbing actually involves. The opening sequence which goes on for 5mns without any dialogue nominally wouldn’t need dubbing. But the entire mixing of that scene is damaged, in English the soundtrack and the music is part of what makes that scene work but dubbed the effect is totally murdered. I still saw the broadcast of course and the film still worked somehow though only by ignoring the dialogue – granted that constitutes 60% of RIO BRAVO.

    To Kent, what exactly is surprising? Obviously the other film-makers may not share the idealism or the spiritual aspect of the film but aesthetically the film is a stunning achievement. Martin Scorsese doesn’t necessarily make films like that but he’s another director who’s waxed poetic over the film(although it’s possible it influenced KUNDUN).

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Miguel, both BLAISE PASCAL and CARTESIUS exist in French versions. Most of the actors in both films are Italian, and Rossellini wanted an Italian for the part of Pascal, but according to Gallagher, Jean Dominique de La Rochefoucauld, who co-wrote both films and supervised the French dubbing, convinced him to cast a French stage actor, Pierre Arditi (later a regular of Resnais’films). Arditi is the only French actor in either film. Descartes is played by an italian in CARTESIUS and by a non-professional (and non-French) in BLAISE PASCAL (the famous sequence in which the two men argue).

    When it comes to the kind of films we have been discussing, there is no “original” version, and the “best” version is simply the one each viewer feels more comfortable (or less uncomfortable) with.

    There are exception of course. Clearly, the original version of VOYAGE TO ITALY is the English-language version, and it is also the best. But some viewers who don’t understand English and/or dislike subtitles might prefer the Italian version, or the French version. Countless millions prefer dubbed versions of anything anyway, so our objections to dubbing are, ultimately, elitist.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    PS: I didn’t use “elitist” in a pejorative sense.

    Bertolucci did something very interesting in THE DREAMERS, filming two versions, one in which the three principal characters — a young American in Paris and a French twin brother and sister — speak mostly English, and one in which they speak mostly French. I watched the English version entirely, and several sequences of the French version. They’re equally convincing. There doesn’t seem to be actual dubbing in either version (however there’s also a Spanish-language version which I haven’t watched and in which I assume the characters are dubbed by Spanishspeaking actors). Unfortunately, the matter of the two versions (English and French) is never discussed in the commentary by Bertolucci, Gilbert Adair (the writer and author of the source novel) and the producer, as though it was of no importance.
    The plot justifies both language versions (although not the Spanish one!) because the French brother and sister have an English mother and speak fluent English, while the American, being in France to perfect his French, can express himself quite well and believably (there even is a scene in which he improvises with the brother, arguing about the Viet Nam war). I sure would like to know more about how these scenes were shot.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    I have just heard that Katlyn Byron, who was the “officer angel” in A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, Sister Ruth in BLACK NARCISSUS and Susan in THE SMALL BACK ROOM, passed away today.

  • Tony Williams

    That is very sad. I heard that she had come down with Alzheimer’s disease last year.

  • david hare

    quote:”I have just heard that Katlyn Byron, who was the “officer angel” in A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, Sister Ruth in BLACK NARCISSUS and Susan in THE SMALL BACK ROOM, passed away today”

    Damn! Damn!

    Have a whisky, Sammy?

    Damn!

  • Kent Jones

    Kathleen Byron was such an unusual actress. And that voice!

    Miguel, have you ever seen THE TRUCE by Francesco Rosi? The power of Primo Levi’s book comes in large part from the fact that everyone is speaking a different language as they return home from the camps, and they struggle to make themselves understood while they’re herded here and there. In the movie, everyone speaks Englsh! I love some of Rosi’s films, and I’m sure he was up against it with his producers, but…why make it at all?

    Arthur S., I love FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS too. A great film. The idea that it “influenced” Bergman, Tarkovsky, Buñuel and Bresson seems incredibly far-fetched to me for a few reasons, the principal one being that they’re four filmmakers who seemed to go out of their way to open themselves to the influence of pretty much anything aside from movies made by other people. On top of which the three B’s were actually making movies when the Rossellini was made, two as relative newcomers and the other as he started a second career phase. Respectfully, I just don’t see it.

  • Arthur S.

    Oh okay. That makes sense. Maybe it was far fetched. Rossellini also didn’t like to be influenced by other movies and didn’t bother with keeping up with new movies unless he knew the people who made it – like Olmi whose I FIDANZATI he plugged to Truffaut so that it would get good coverage at Cannes or Renoir with whom he was close friends. In fact it was surprising for me to read that he had great admiration for King Vidor.

    By the way RIP Ms. Byron. Durgnat once said that her work in the 40s epitomized the creative adventurous side of the British cinema. Her work in BLACK NARCISSUS, THE SMALL BACK ROOM is timeless as is her cameo in AMOLAD. She was also great as Mrs. Ryan in “Saving Private Ryan” however brief that role was. I wonder if she worked in any other notable films aside from these. Byron had a contract at MGM(correct me if I’m wrong) and she was going to be typecast in “neurotic wench” roles but she dropped out and came back to England. That kind of integrity is very admirable.

  • david hare

    After Powell she wanders into the murk of 50s Quota Quickie (mk 2) Brit cinema, for example an early (Rank) Hammer Noir, Gambler and the Lady – Terence Fisher (co director in this case)with the standard US guest, on the lam, in this case Dane Clark – fresh from Moonrise. She has the third part as the third part of a triangle and she’s terrible. So is everyone else, esepecially Fisher who coudldn’t direct a wall at this stage. But this only shows the generally abominable quality of the early 50s screenplays (let’s call it British cinema writing) for these cycles of Quota Quickie Crime films – the rare exceptions really stand out – and she clearly needed a nurturing director, like Powell to allow her to give back her own personality.
    But she seems to have made a decent career later decades, especially in TV, seemingly coming to a late phase in the Spielberg and other hi-end pictures. I simply have no idea what she’s like in them – I have never seen Private Ryan for instance.

    In any case she’s someone whose character is caught by a filmmkaer of great skill and grace and flawlessly graced by him three movies (plus a bit with no words in Blimp.)

    I can’t adequately describe to you why I respond to her so strongly (and who would care anyway.) But she’s part of a magic few years in post war British cinema, just like Powell himself who makes my head spin. For one thing she fully immerses me – as a queer man within the concept of sublime sexual love with a woman. And she’s only one of two or three female actors who ever did it.

  • Miguel Marías

    Star filmmakers such as Kubrick or Bertolucci “supervise” or choose who’s making the Spanish translation and who directs the dubbing into Spanish (usually, “star” or respected Spanish writers and directors), although I must say that a) that does not guarantee anything, not even that they are better made than the usual ones; b) seems to me a heavy loss, in any case, from the original film. As a matter of fact, substituting one voice with another (which is not cast to voice but to physical “types” such as fat, tall, strong, without ever hearing the original soundtrack, often in tones completely diverging from the true film, and almost always deteriorating the whole sound) seems to me an absolutely monstruous idea. Dubbing can wipe out 50% of the actors’ work, which may amount to 50% of the director’s work. If you add what the frame and ratio may have been subjected to, we are lucky if we get 50% of a foreign film if we prefer to see it dubbed (I cannot, it makes me sick). I prefer subtitles by a very long way.
    Kent, I saw “The Truce”, but not wholly in English, but in Italian! So which, if any, is the true version? And was any of them any good? I’ve read somewhere there is an English version of “Senso”: does that make sense? On the other hand, usually it seems quite useless the policy of some European producers which want to get into the English-language markets and hire foreign actors (often not very good, but cheaper; almost always inadecuate or unbelievable or unlikely for the characters they have to play) and shoot in English or (more often) dub everything into English: these films are rarely accepted in the US or the UK, and in their own countries are dubbed back into Spanish or Italian even when some use was made in the plot of conflict between languages. The true original, and better, versions of several Spanish films is in English: Antonio Drove’s “The Tunnel”, Gonzalo Suárez’ “Rowing with the Wind”, while José Luis Borau’s “The Sabine” and “Río abajo” are bilingual, and neither has been shown in Spain as they were made.
    Miguel Marías

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Miguel, “absolutely monstrous idea” perfectly expresses my own view of dubbing.

    What a can of worms Cosmo Brown opened the day he invented dubbing (“Watch my mouth!”)!

  • David Boxwell

    “Sister Ruth has gone mad!”

    Nobody did brittle nervy neurosis like Kathleen Byron. TCM recently broadcast PRELUDE TO FAME (50), in which she plays an infertile upper-class woman who manipulates and almost destroys a young musical prodigy. You can’t take your eyes off her.

  • Kent Jones

    Miguel, I’ve never seen an English-language version of SENSO. I guess Williams and Bowles wrote in English. God knows how they all worked it out. I have no idea what the “true version” of THE TRUCE would be. Since Turturro was presumably speaking English, I guess it would be in English. But if it’s all just in one language, it’s ridiculous.

    Kathleen Byron doesn’t play the mother who gets the news about her three sons killed in action, she plays the wife tagging along after her husband in the graveyards at Normandy. Not much of a role, I’m afraid.

  • Jean-Pierre,
    Thank you for the information about Robert Dhéry. Will be looking for his films.

    Junko,
    Thank you for the iconography analysis of The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tails. This is all completely new to me. Your ideas help lead to a much better understanding of this film, than I had before.

    Just watched yesterday the Rossellini and Visconti episodes of Siamo donne / We, the Women (1953). They are available in Italian without subs on youtube. Ingrid’s garden seems like another one of Rossellini’s maze-like areas. She loves flowers, like the heroine of Stromboli and the cactus. And there are comedy scenes of people chasing after animals in The Flowers of St. Francis.

    Today is Martin Luther King Day. It’s a beautiful day here in Detroit!

  • Kent wrote: “[Byron] she plays the wife tagging along after her husband in the graveyards at Normandy. Not much of a role, I’m afraid.”

    Yeah, but she got to meet Matt Damon!!!!

  • Kent Jones

    Glenn – not even! But let’s not give away the surprise ending of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.

  • Tony Williams

    Yes, THE GAMBLER AND THE LADY is an awful film and I could not believe that Kathleen Byron could ever give a bad performance until I saw it. Enough has been said about the circumstances of that production. So now I want to share some memories of this very remarkable actress in terms of two of her television performances I remember from way back.

    In the long running ITV series EMERGENCY WARD 10, she played the alcoholic wife of Chief Surgeon Harold de la Roux (John Barron) in several episodes in the late 50s. de la Roux kept his private life secret and nobody even knew he was married until one episode ended with him entering the door of a sanatorium. In the next few episodes, Byron appeared delivering a performance of fragility and sensitivity far removed from her Sister Ruth persona. Her acting was really touching.

    In one episode of the now lost 1960s BBC TV series HEREWARD THE WAKE, she played a malevolent Queen presiding over a “Court of Love” who forced Hereward’s lover Torfrida (Yvonne Furneaux) to marry the first person who came through the door. Fortunately, for her the ragged tramp who entered was none other than Hereward (Alfred Lynch) in disguise.

    These two performances are now lost but they remain in my memory and were seen long before I knew of her work with the Archers. I would also like to mention her brief role as a Dutch schoolteacher in the Archers’ produced THE SILVER FLEET (1943) as also being very memorable. Like all key talents, she needed the right combination of creative directors and accomplished screenplays to evoke that special quality inherent in her.

    As I write, I see the UK newspapers have been slow to report her departure. But she will always be fondly remembered by those of us who have seen her films and remember her distinctive performances in television productions thathave now been ruthlessly wiped into oblivion.

    Yes, she was wasted in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.

  • Kent Jones

    Thanks for the detail, Tony. That’s a very thoughtful tribute.

  • Today is Edgar Allan Poe’s 200th birthday.
    There is a visually stunning tribute at Glenn Kenny’s blog.
    And mystery historian Xavier Lechard has a coup: a new interview with Poe. See his blog:

  • Kent Jones

    Thanks for the reminder, Mike. I should have made a trip up to the cottage today. I suppose now is the time for everyone to talk about their favorite films based on Poe. Before we all try to outdo one another with unusual choices, I would like to say a word for PREMATURE BURIAL. I love all the Corman films, and that one’s always been slighted. I suppose it’s not as good as THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH or THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, but I find it affecting and unsettling, not to mention beautifully crafted.

  • Kent Jones

    Glenn also has a lovely tribute to Kathleen Byron.

  • Jaime

    “I suppose now is the time for everyone to talk about their favorite films based on Poe. Before we all try to outdo one another with unusual choices”

    Nope. Going straight for Ulmer’s insurmountable BLACK CAT.

    Read somewhere that Sylvester Stallone has a long-gestating dream of filming a Poe biopic. Yes.

  • Kent Jones

    Jaime, I love THE BLACK CAT too, but it has next to nothing to do with the story, which is closer to “The Tell-Tale Heart” or “The Cask of Amontillado.”

  • Siamo donne (We, the Women) (1953) is a series of episodes of a comedy film, each made with a different star and director. Luchino Visconti directed the episode with Anna Magnani.

    Visconti’s episode is a sort of Utopian fantasy. It shows Magnani, playing herself, wandering around Rome. Everywhere she goes, she spreads a bit of fun. The film is a fantasy about being a diva, and what that might mean in terms of comic joy.

    The brief film has a structure a bit like The Leopard:

    * The first part of both films takes us to locations all over. In Siamo donne, this is Magnani’s taxi cab ride around Rome.
    * The second part of both films is a bravura musical sequence. In Siamo donne, Magnani sings a song on stage at a theater.

    The police building has a huge, multi-story courtyard in its center. Other Visconti films will involve such interior, multi-story areas (apartment courtyard: Rocco and His Brothers, hall with mezzanine: The Damned).

    We also see people in boxes at the theater, another Visconti favorite image (Senso, White Nights). This also involves a well-like, multi-story interior.

    Everywhere Magnani goes, she meets crowds of young men in uniform: sailors, policemen. They all smile, and have a brief holiday, showing her courtesy. The film anticipates the interest Visconti will show in uniforms in The Leopard and The Damned. But, unlike these later films, these are innocent, modern day Italian young men. None is associated in any way with an oppressive regime, or any sort of sinister political program. They are just young guys, getting a welcome break from their serious routine, by meeting a movie star.

    As usual in Visconti, the men are in groups of identical uniforms. Early on, we see groups of sailors, all in the same uniform. Later at the police station, there are large numbers of identically uniformed police. Such men in repeating clothes form building blocks of Visconti’s compositions.

  • Jaime

    “Jaime, I love THE BLACK CAT too, but it has next to nothing to do with the story, which is closer to “The Tell-Tale Heart” or “The Cask of Amontillado.””

    What’s the criteria, then, fidelity? It’s based on Poe and it’s awesome, so…

  • Jim Gerow

    There are two wonderful silent Poe adaptations, Griffith’s THE AVENGING CONSCIENCE (based largely on the premise of The Tell-Tale Heart, plus bits of The Raven and Annabel Lee; Dave reviewed the recent DVD release) and Epstein’s spellbinding FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER.

  • Kent Jones

    Yes Jim, those are both fascinating films. The Dassin short based on THE TELL-TALE HEART is not bad either. I wish that someone would do a spare adaptation of Poe. Lewton and Robson’s ISLE OF THE DEAD has moments, and I suppose it qualifies as a kind of loose adaptation of “Premature Burial.” It’s been a while since I’ve seen Florey’s MURDERS OF THE RUE MORGUE. The 3-D film, PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE, is godawful but fun.

  • Junko Yasutani

    There is animated version of THE TELL-TALE HEART that is good movie and good adaptation, made in 1950s but I do not remember the exact year.

  • Kent Jones

    Junko, this is the 1953 Columbia version?

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘this is the 1953 Columbia version?’

    Yes, it is that version.

  • Blake Lucas

    That 1953 TELL-TALE HEART was UPA as I recall. It was really done beautifully. James Mason, no less, narrated the story through the film.

    Lots of Poe adaptations because people like the ideas in the stories. And they probably like his writing–and his poetry specifically–just as well. But even when a voice like Vincent Price reads Poe directly onto the soundtrack, the atmosphere of a film is bound to changes these films into something completely different. And even more than with most writers, it seems unfair to compare the films to the Poe originals. It’s going down the wrong path to ask for fidelity to the stories, and any poetry they have has to be their own, “inspired” by him perhaps.

    So, THE BLACK CAT (Ulmer)–an outstanding work in its own right. And others that have been named here too.

    With this in mind, I just have to put in a lonely
    note of affection for WAR GODS OF THE DEEP (1965), the last film of Jacques Tourneur. It has really nothing to do with Poe’s haunting, beautiful poem “City in the Sea” (though of course it gets a reading in the film anyway), and is regarded as a tawdry, low-budget AIP movie. Even Chris Fujiwara does not think of it kindly. But when I first saw this at at a seedy revival house by Puget Sound in Seattle on a triple bill, I felt that Tourneur’s talent, which had come to mean so much to me in the few years before I caught up with this, was still alive, and I immensely enjoyed this strange but interesting movie.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘With this in mind, I just have to put in a lonely
    note of affection for WAR GODS OF THE DEEP (1965), the last film of Jacques Tourneur.’

    I like this movie too. Part was very beautiful, but other part was not so good. Still it is worthwhile to be seen by people who admire Jacques Tourneur movies.

    Edgar Allen Poe is popular writer in Japan, and was the influence on Akutagawa. Most famous Japanese mystery writer is Edogawa Rampo, pseudonym, because that is how Japanese people pronounce the name of Edgar Allen Poe.

  • Miguel Marías

    Although neither is officially an adaptation of Poe, I think both “Vertigo” and the “Oval Portrait” sequence in “Vivre sa vie” are great film tributes to E.A. Poe. And I would not forget Griffith’s “The Avenging Conscience” nor Jean Epstein’s “La Chute de la maison Usher”.
    Miguel Marías

  • Kent Jones

    Junko, the film about Edogawa Rampo made in the mid-90s did pretty well here. I never saw it. I also like WAR GODS OF THE DEEP.

    Blake, the problem I have with THE BLACK CAT as a Poe adaptation is that it has very little if anything to do with the spirit of Poe or the story itself, and feels much closer to something by Horace Walpole or Matthew Gregory Lewis. I agree with you in principle, but this is not an example of “creative violation.” It’s an example of Universal taking a story with a reconizable title that’s in the public domain, gutting the story itself and giving it to a very talented director to make an expressionist/gothic haunted house/horror movie. Ulmer probably could have done a beautiful movie from Poe. This isn’t it. It’s something else – I love it but Poe it ain’t. I sort of wish that the Rivette of 30 years ago, Davies, or Mulligan, Lewin, or Tourneur had really taken a crack at it. Someone with a lot of patience.

  • Mike Grost

    RAMPO is a nice movie, unexpectedly experimental in its story telling.
    I’ve read a few short stories by Edogawa Rampo. They were more horror than mystery – and not really the kind of stuff I enjoy reading (I’m not a horror fan).
    The other silent film of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, by Watson and Webber, is a major classic of the experimental film. It and the other film by the team, LOT IN SODOM, are now out on DVD, and are real finds. The Watson/Webber film is hardly a straightforward adaptation of Poe.
    I didn’t like the Epstein version anywhere as much as La Glace a trois faces.

  • Kent Jones

    Mike, LA GLACE A TROIS FACES is the Epstein version.

  • Mike Grost

    I probably didn’t write this clearly.
    I like La Glace a trois faces by Epstein – and also his Le Temepestaire. But I didn’t like Epstein’s version of The Fall of the House of Usher.
    The sound track might have prejudiced me. The DVD score is the sort of White Noise that has been banned by the Geneva Convention. Should try again, with the sound turned off.

  • Kent Jones

    Oh, my mistake Mike – I wasn’t reading you clearly. Yes, I agree with you, LA GLACE A TROIS FACES is better than Epstein’s USHER, which is very busy and hectic. LE TEMPESTAIRE is great, as are FINIS TERRAE and L’OR DES MERS.

  • I would love to see FINIS TERRAE and L’OR DES MERS. Have only managed to see 3 Epstein films.
    And we desperately need more Japanese detective stories translated into English. From the handful available, quality is high. Favorite writers:
    Seicho Matsumoto
    Ten to sen (Point and Lines) (1957)
    Koe (The Voice)
    * Kanto-ku no onna (The Woman Who Wrote Haiku) (1960)

    Kyotaro Nishimura
    Misuteri ressha ga kieta (The Mystery Train Disappears) (1982)

    Shizuko Natsuki
    “The Sole of the Foot” (translated 1981)
    “Divine Punishment” (translated 1991)

    Norizuki Rintarô
    “An Urban Legend Puzzle” (2001)

    Yokoyama Hideo
    Kaise Masayuki stories
    * Motive (2000)

  • Blake Lucas

    Kent, no argument about THE BLACK CAT. Yes, they just hijacked the title. The movie can only be appreciated as it deserves if one doesn’t think of it as a Poe adaptation. My point is that this is so often true, though this is an extreme example. WAR GODS OF THE DEEP (not as great, and I agree it’s an uneven achievement even though I like it) is really another example, even if the poem is recited on the soundtrack. When I first read this poem (and I was pretty young) and reading it since, this is definitely not what it evoked for me. And that’s pretty much true of all the Poe stories and poems I’ve read. I do think one could get down on any one of those movies–easy to do too if you loved Poe from an early age. Sometimes it’s opportunistic of a filmmaker (even a talented man like Corman) to slap the name “Poe” on a film; other times, as with the way you describe THE BLACK CAT, it may not be their doing. But it would be the same film if it were called “YOU SEE, VITUS, EVEN THE PHONE IS DEAD.”

  • Dano

    Just to clarify a bit on the dubbing of Visconti’s “The Leopard”, Lancaster performed his role in English, not Italian. Delon acted in both French (with Cardinale, Pierre Clemente, and others) and English (with Lancaster and Leslie French). Cardinale performed her role in English with Lancaster, French with Delon, and Italian with (most) everyone else. Delon and Cardinale’s voices can only be heard on the French dub, not the English or Italian. As I recall, Delon’s Italian wasn’t considered good enough to use, while Cardinale spoke hers with a French accent (her native language), and was also replaced.

    As for the English version, none of the actors, except Lancaster and French, spoke their own parts. At Lancaster’s request, his performance was shot with sound, so he wouldn’t have to dub his lines back in later. But, as luck would have it, the track couldn’t be located when it finally came time to rerecord. I have a list somewhere of the replacement voices on the three cuts. The Fox one, I remember, utilizes a couple of name actors including Kurt Kasznar and Howard da Silva.

  • Thanks, Dano. Valuable information.

  • jd coppola

    I realize this is a little late, but as long as people are into clarifications here, I’ll post it. Burt Lancaster was from New York City, not New Jersey, and his father was a postal clerk, not a circus performer.
    Not only only was he from NYC, but he was born in, and grew up in, East Harlem when it was overwhelmingly Italo-American and he thought of himself as something of an Italo-American. Thus, he was excited about getting the role in “The Leopard” and disappointed not to get the title role in “The Godfather”. He became a circus performer, after spending about two years at NYU majoring in Physical Education. Nick Cravat (born Nicola Cuccia),his partner in his circus act “Lang and Cravat”, who appeared in many of his films, was a boyhood frien from East Harlem.
    Kate Buford’s biography of Lancaster is available for limited preview at Google Books:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=xkN_NyuJKFwC