1963's The Leopard, directed by the Italian Count Luchino Visconti and based on the best-selling novel by countryman Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, tells the story of an Old World aristocrat - the Sicilian Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina - as he faces the changes forced upon his embattled social class by the Italian Risorgimento of 1860, a revolutionary social movement (and armed conflict) that brought about the end of that country's feudal monarchies and united its states into what now is the country of Italy. The vision of both the novel and the film is epic, and the politics of the thing are intricate enough that even a native Italian likely found it a challenge in 1963, and would likely find it even more so today. The politics are also central to the film, and this undoubtedly contributed to its uneasy stateside reception in '63 and its virtual unavailability on video until now.
My hope is that Criterion's marvelous new three-DVD edition will change that. Unlike many special editions, there's no superfluous material here: The set includes the original, 187-minute Italian version of The Leopard, the U.S. theatrical release (because Burt Lancaster starred, 20th Century Fox had American rights to the film; not knowing what to do with it, they trimmed 16 minutes, dubbed it into English, and distorted - in the interests of "accessibility" - Giuseppe Rotunno's gorgeous widescreen cinematography), enlightening commentary by film historian Peter Cowie, and video essays that provide important historical context for the action alongside new interviews with surviving cast and crew members.
Continue reading: The Leopard Review