REVIEW: Blu-ray Only Release: The Leopard

Film: The Leopard
Release date: 21st June 2010 (DVD release: 27th September 2004)
Certificate: PG
Running time: 185 mins
Director: Luchino Visconti
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon, Paolo Stoppa, Rina Morelli
Genre: Drama/Romance
Studio: BFI
Format: Blu-ray
Country: Italy/France

No less than Martin Scorsese has hailed Luchino Visconti’s 1963 epic as one of his favourite films of all time, and now the movie has been given the High Definition treatment and made its way onto Blu-ray.

Hollywood legend Burt Lancaster stars as the ageing Prince of Salina, who finds himself over taken by events during the period of Italian unification in the early 1800s, where democratic revolt saw the aristocracy under severe pressure.

As the prince struggles to hold onto power in his country, there are matters closer to home which are also moving out of his control. Alain Delon plays his nephew Tancredi, who goes off to fight with Garibaldi’s forces and on his return falls in love with the prince’s beautiful wife-to-be Angelica (Claudia Cardinale)…

The film was famous at the time for going horrendously over budget and taking a few liberties with its original source material, a novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. The director also clashed with the studio over the length of the movie. His original cut was a staggering 205 minutes, but under pressure to cut it down to a still-whopping 185 mins.

It was Visconti’s attention to detail that sent the cost of the film through the roof. No expense was spared, which makes for a film that truly looks stunning. It cost around $7m to make at the time, and you see every cent through the costumes and locations. It was filmed on location in Sicily and has a truly epic feel to it.

There were several versions of the film produced at the time, including a shorter (165 mins) edit which was dubbed in English, apart from Lancaster’s lines. This BFI print is the original Italian version and it has been lavishly restored in High Definition. It is safe to say that there are films that have been made in the last ten years that do not look this good on blu-ray.

The restored version allows you to marvel at just how good the costumes were and the scale of Visconti’s vision. Visconti used Technirama to film The Leopard, which gave him incredibly high quality and widescreen images, although as the accompanying booklet points out, this meant the shots took a long time to set up, which only added to the cost of the production.

By modern standards, the film is too long. The finale at the ball in Palazzo Pantaleone occupies a quarter of the entire film’s running time, clocking in at just under 45 minutes. Critics at the time were divided about whether the film was a masterpiece or just self-indulgent.

Looking back, these ballroom scenes are absolutely stunning. Hundreds of extras are dancing in beautiful costumes, and Lancaster is truly at the height of his powers. It could easily be trimmed and cut down, and you can see how it informed some of Scorsese’s more elaborate and indulgent films, like Gangs Of New York. It is slow paced, but when every shot looks so wonderful, you are still drawn into all the subtle nuances and lingering looks.

Lancaster delivers a truly stunning performance as an aristocrat who is unable to keep up as society changes around him. Although the famous American actor had all his lines dubbed by an Italian actor, he delivered a truly stunning performance, particularly in the closing moments of the film.

The film also has a short interview with Claudia Cardinale and a commentary by David Forgacs and Rossana Capitano. A different transfer of the film has been issued in Region 1 by Criterion and also includes documentary on the making of the movie, as well as the English-dubbed version.

As a costume drama, Visconti’s film delivers on every level. Yes, it is too long and it does take a few liberties with the original novel, but the same could be said about most movie adaptations. It’s a beautiful film with a Hollywood icon delivering one of his greatest performances. JH

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