The Leopard (Blu-ray)
Directed by Luchino Visconti
Aspect Ratio: 2.21:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 185 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 Italian
MSRP: $ 49.95
Release Date: June 29, 2010
Review Date: June 18, 2010
The most painterly of the great Italian directors who rose to fame during the middle of the 20th century, Luchino Visconti made the first of his great epic films with The Leopard. Like a huge, sumptuous meal, The Leopard is outsized, tantalizing, and opulent; it’s also heavy, overly formal, sometimes leaden, and not for all tastes. The original film was ill-treated in its domestic release here, but the version represented on this exciting high definition release is the original film in all of its magnificent splendor.
Sicily in 1860 was part of an Italian revolution to unite the country under one government, and Don Fabrizio Corbera, the Prince of Salina (Burt Lancaster) watches as the country he’s known and loved for decades begins changing before his eyes. His beloved nephew Tancredi (Alain Delon) is part of the uprising, and when he returns from battle, he’s so bowled over by Angelica Sedàra (Claudia Cardinale), daughter of one of the Prince’s less admired, less refined colleagues (Paolo Stoppa), that his taken-for-granted engagement to the Prince’s daughter Concetta (Lucilla Morlacchi) is quickly forgotten. As time passes, changes continue as the Prince resigns himself to a country which will be nothing like the Sicily he’s known.
Visconti’s direction around this period of his career began to take on an even more languorous style than had been prevalent in his earlier works, and he spends great amounts of time with extended set pieces which allow the audience to truly breathe the atmosphere of the era he’s representing on film. Those with brief attention spans will undoubtedly check out early, but for those who remain, the pleasures to be gained from this exacting attention to detail are enormous. An elegant banquet scene in the film is extraordinarily staged and shot giving us not only the rich imagery but great glimpses into the hearts and minds of many of the characters as they interact with one another. We see Angelica’s vulgarity which clashes markedly with her stunning looks. We see the contempt on the face of the Prince as he realizes these improper people will soon be a part of his extended family and future leaders in the government. When Visconti wants to ramp up the action, he can do it as a lengthy street fight between the warring factions illustrates. But he’s at his best in quieter set-ups: a quick cut from the palatial splendor of the Prince’s castle to an unkempt palace where Tancredi, Angelica, and their cohorts meet to have fun, a startling view of the generation gap if there ever was one. And, of course, one must mention the forty-five minute ball scene which climaxes the film with yet again more examples of the culture clashes and the times that are changing as the Prince slowly and sadly resigns himself to the evolution of the times and his own mortality. It’s a morose mood on which to end the film, a motif which Visconti seemed eager to revisit in such later works as The Damned, Death in Venice, and Ludwig.
Though he’s dubbed by another actor in the original Italian version of the film, Burt Lancaster nevertheless scores a career high as the Prince, a man full of life and love and one who holds tenaciously to it all until it’s obvious his time is up. As the lovers, both Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale are stunning looking and manage to surpass their appearance with really first-rate performances, he twinkly and captivatingly charismatic and she a mixture of moody beauty and open lustiness. As the Prince’s cold, sour wife, Rina Morelli scores magnificently while Lucilla Morlacchi’s pitiable Concetta, spurned by the man she continues to love, makes a solid impression. Exceptional work is also turned in by Paolo Stoppa as the vulgarian Sedàra and Mario Girotti, a handsome friend of Tancredi, who romances Concetta to no avail.
The film’s Technirama aspect ratio of 2.21:1 is beautifully delivered in a stunning 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. One magnificent shot after another will dazzle the senses in this lush, scrumptious-looking transfer. Yes, there is ever the slightest minor banding in a couple of shots, and reds seem to be more on the orange side than deep red. Flesh tones also have a way of varying a bit from realistic to somewhat too brown, and black levels aren’t at their deepest, but those are the only quibbles. Detail is formidable throughout, and scratches and other video artifacts simply are not present. The white subtitles are usually easy to read, only occasionally fading a bit against a light background. The film has been divided into 31 chapters.
The PCM 1.0 audio track (2.3 Mbps) doesn’t have outstanding fidelity, though typical aural artifacts for films of this period like hiss, pops, crackle, and flutter have been eliminated. It’s bass that’s obviously lacking in the mix, and sounds on the high end sometimes sound shrill and quite unpleasant.
The audio commentary is by the respected and highly capable Peter Cowie, one of Criterion’s regular contributors whose research and opinions are always welcome and most informative. With an over three hour film to discuss, Cowie takes his time with his information, often pausing for moments between topics obviously giving the viewer time to soak in what we’re seeing as well as what he’s saying, a marvelous idea. This is a must listen for fans of the film or the director.
Disc two in the set houses the remaining special features.
The American version of the film is presented as it was recut and redubbed in 1963 by Twentieth Century-Fox under the supervision of Sydney Pollack, but, really, who wants to see it? The film has been reframed to Cinemascope proportions (2.35:1) throwing off the careful frame compositions, and the color is drab, and the image is completely lackluster. Yes, you get to hear Burt Lancaster’s vocal performance here, but the dubbing overall is fairly awful (even Pollack admits as much in a bonus feature).There’s a fair amount of dust specks, too, so if you bother to watch this, understand that the picture quality will not be pristine. It runs 2 hours, 42 minutes, has a Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack, and is presented in 1080i.
“A Dying Breed: The Making of The Leopard” is a 61 ½-minute documentary on the making of the film featuring interviews with Claudia Cardinale as well as the film’s costume designer, art director, and screenwriter. The feature covers the life of the book’s author, offers a brief biography of the director, goes into some detail about the changes from book to movie as well as information on casting and production problems along the way as well as the problematic hatchet job done on the movie for its American release. It’s presented in 1080i.
Producer Goffredo Lombardo speaks for 19 ½ minutes on his experiences with the director in making the film. He discusses casting (at one point going behind Visconti’s back to talk to Burt Lancaster whom the director didn’t want), experiences in dealing with Visconti’s extravagances (which inevitably bankrupted the company) and other production problems. It’s in 1080i.
Historian Millicent Marcus offers a history of the Italian civil war of 1860-1862 which had in effect three different factions working toward the same end. Her lecture which adds much color to the exposition of the fighting going on during the movie lasts 13 ¾ minutes in 1080i.
Posters and lobby cards in a variety of languages are collected and may be stepped through by the viewer.
Two Italian newsreels concerning the movie’s premiere run for 3 ¼ minutes in 1080i.
The Italian theatrical trailer runs for 3 ¼ minutes. Two American trailers are also offered: one featuring Burt Lancaster runs 2 ¾ minutes; the other making the movie look like a western runs for 1 ¼ minutes. All are in 1080i.
Four groups of stills, in both black and white and color, may be stepped through by the viewer.
The enclosed 17-page booklet contains the chapter listing, the cast and crew lists, a selection of lovely color stills, and an essay by film historian Michael Wood that touches on the film’s high points.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4.5/5 (not an average)
An epic examination of eras ending and beginning in war torn Italy makes for a mesmerizing film in The Leopard. The Blu-ray has exquisite video and a treasure chest of bonus material that admirers of this gilt-edged spectacle will truly enjoy experiencing. Highly recommended!