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Watching ‘The Leopard’ at my local arts cinema about fifteen years ago was my way into the films of Luchino Visconti. I was bowled over by it: I could feel the heat of the Sicilian summer; I could feel the dust of Donnafugata; and I could feel the constricted heart of Burt Lancaster at the ball.

This is a review of the Criterion Collection three-disc DVD set of one of the hundred best films ever made. The size and scope of the Criterion Collection’s package is greater than the later set issued by the BFI.

Disc one features the 185-minute film version. (The original film was 205 minutes in length but was reduced by the producer partly due to the objections of the Catholic Church.) It comes with a commentary by Peter Cowie who expands on the film-making, the historical context of the story, and the links to the novel, reading out many extracts at appropriate moments. Cowie also informs us that Visconti originally wanted either Marlon Brando or Laurence Olivier to play the title role.

It is interesting to compare the natural, painterly scenes of ‘The Leopard’ with the pretentious works of other Italian directors of this era, but then Visconti was an aristocrat with nothing to prove in the 1960s. You can pause the movie at any point to witness his skill at framing and colouring, whether it is an interior or exterior shot.

I’ll come to disc two in a minute, but first disc three features the English-language version. There is a background hiss (but it is not overtly disagreeable) and the colours are not as sharp. (It is a new transfer but not a digital one.) And of course it is twenty-five minutes shorter than the Italian version – thus, for instance, when Lancaster goes to visit the prostitute there is no conversation with the priest, rather the door is merely closed; and there is no explanation given for the journey to Donnafugata; nor the priest’s monologue in the inn.

From watching the English-language version, it is clear that most actors spoke their lines in English. One benefit of the English version is that the screen is slightly wider (from 2.21:1 to 2.35:1): witness the seating of the priest on the left side when Burt Lancaster kisses Paolo Stoppa to seal the marriage bargain between Tancredi and Angelica.

Finally, then, disc two. This features a sixty-minute ‘Making of’ documentary that was made in 2004, with chapters on the novel, the screenplay, the casting, pre-production, the shooting, and the dubbing. Contributors include Claudia Cardinale, Sydney Pollack, Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi di Lampedusa, Suso Cecchi d’Amico, and Piero Tosi.

Claudia Cardinale says she spoke her lines in English with Burt Lancaster, in French with Alain Delon, and in Italian with the rest. But this is contradicted if you watch the lips, and Brad Stevens (in ‘Sight & Sound’) insists that all the principle actors spoke English. Stevens therefore claims that the English-language version has a claim to authenticity. Sydney Pollack oversaw the English version and says that all the voices were redubbed for it, and apart from those of Burt Lancaster and Leslie French, the voices used were by different actors than those seen on screen. (Pollack humbly takes the blame for the film’s failure in the States.)

Other extras on disc two include a twenty-minute interview in 2003 with the producer, who talked of the possibility of a sequel. Then Professor Millicent Marcus takes fifteen minutes to talk about the history of the Risorgimento and how the history of Italy is reflected in the film. Stills, film of the Rome premiere, and trailers complete the disc. All in all, then, this is a generous package.
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on 11 June 2016
Favourite film.....atmospheric, a dream cake of honey coloured buildings and countryside of Sicily against backdrop of romance, politics and the gradual erosion of the aristocratic family. Classical and what style this film has. Visconti at his best.
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on 21 July 2017
It might be flop movie but performance of Burt Lancaster made it Great movie.
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on 7 March 2017
Beautiful, classic movie.
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on 24 June 2017
Beautiful scenes
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on 17 October 2015
A truly remarkable story brilliantly acted by Burt Lancaster. did not know he was that good
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on 21 July 2017
this was a great film
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on 6 April 2017
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VINE VOICEon 29 August 2008
Seen again, in full (this time) after 45 years. And as excellent as it was then. Advancing years give one the opportunity really to understand what the film is saying: change may be unpleasant, but cannot and should not be resisted. The changers themselves become changed, and in doing will lose some, possibly all, of their innocence when they realise that too much change may unleash an anarchy that might sweep them away. Just as the Directorate and Napoleon closed down the sans culottes, so Don Tancredi turned against Garibaldi's Redshirts. Visconti's film presages the rise of Fascism when the bourgeois Savoy monarchy is again threatened by the Left.

From the very start, the film projects the viewer into the priest-ridden, feudal world of Bourbon Sicily: we see the Prince's family indoors at prayer, with a growing clamour outside that they try to ignore. The world is about to break open shutters that have been closed for centuries. The young want to find out what the fuss is about, to be quietened by their elders. In the end, the Prince himself shuts the priest's breviary to find out what has happened: there is a dead soldier outside. The whole tone of the next nearly three hours has been set, with great skill and economy, and all within a few minutes. We are about to see an epic film , in the best sense of the term, about a now vanished world. I have read an American review elsewhere that draws parallels with Gone With the Wind - not inappropriate, as they portray rapidly changing societies, though The Leopard is a better film structurally.

My memory from 1963 is that of a film that had obviously been cut and clearly dubbed into English (apart obviously from Lancaster's role). The use of Italian in this restored version seems logical, since I should imagine that with so many native actors most of the dialogue wouild have been in that language anyway. And the use of dubbing is one that anyone used to seeing foreign films should accept without too much fuss. We are told that the colour and continuity as this version are better though there are still places where cuts seem have been left in, suggested by abrupt transitions of location. Is there still more footage around to be added?

A masterpiece and definitely one of the greatest 50 films of all time.
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on 3 September 2012
Ever since its initial release, this film has lived in my memory. This is without doubt one of the greatest films of all time and is so truthful to the classic book. Everything is spot on: the acting, photography, music and, above all, the superb directing of Visconti - it is, in my opinion, his finest work on film, even surpassing Rocco. For me, it is like an opera without singing - so dramatic, so moving, so beautiful!

The DVD was great, but the Blu-Ray quite superb.

If I could only take one film to my desert island, it would be The Leopard!
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