LIST POSITION: #15
TITLE: The Leopard
DIRECTOR: Luchino Visconti
CAST: Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon, Paolo Stoppa, Rina Morelli
RATING: Not Rated
- Restored high-definition digital transfer
- Uncompressed monaural soundtrackThe 161-minute American release, with English-language dialog
- Audio commentary by film scholar Peter Cowie
- A Dying Breed: The Making of “The Leopard,” an hour-long documentary
- Video interview with producer Goffredo Lombardo
- Video interview with film scholar Millicent Marcus
- Original theatrical trailers and newsreels
- Stills gallery of rare behind-the-scenes production photos
BUY IT AT AMAZON!
WHY IT’S ON THE LIST:
The Leopard is a film that needs to be seen in theaters at least once. Everything is enhanced by the experience, from the masterfully blocked Technirama frame to the larger than life sets. It’s undeniably a different experience than watching the film in even the best of home theater setups. But, Criterion’s new HD transfer isn’t a downgrade from the theater experience. Instead the crisp, clear image and nearly flawless audio draw you deeper into the internal struggles of the characters.
Although The Leopard is an epic film, it’s an internal epic. War and actual political action is left to a few clumsy, brutal battles. The real battles are between the emotions and customs of the classes and generations. Burt Lancaster’s Sicilian Prince Don Fabrizio Salina is all refined customs as change is forced upon him from all directions, forcing emotion down but never quite accepting anything. It’s obvious that Fabrizio belongs to a class and system Visconti had mixed emotions about, but Lancaster’s performance changes Fabrizio from a representation of his class to just a man of his time. During the three hours of the film, not much directly happens to him. Through the collaboration, however it came to be, between Lancaster and Visconti the film goes into Ford territory. This is a story about The Prince and his place in his surroundings. Location is just as important here as it is in The Searchers. Instead of the desert it’s an estate, feeling just as isolated and overpowering as Monument Valley. Fabrizio isn’t traveling from ghost town to ghost town, but rather from era to era. Like most existential stories the pace of change is unavoidable. The film sees the upper class’s social rituals and compulsions as a mechanism that the old world runs on, but it never condemns them.
As much as there is a definitive political leaning of the film, for Visconti the political themes were periphery. The frame and scope are huge, but Lancaster’s movements are what is driving the film. His posture and stride is Fabrizio’s rebellion. Lancaster’s performance is purely physical, and it’s astounding to watch him do it so effortlessly. He’s doing such subtle things, but still drawing attention to them. In the famous ballroom sequence Lancaster moves gracefully around the frame. Doing his Princely duties despite the revolution ready to bust through his door, and he still carries himself with the dignity and pride that is expected of him. But somehow all the weight and dread of time and change shows on his face and in his walk. I don’t know how Lancaster is showing those emotions, and that’s the greatest thing about the performance. Visconti and Lancaster are hiding their craft behind story and character, and the end result is a breathtaking showpiece for the mastery of their art.
I’m not trying to take away from the work of Alain Delon or Claudia Cardinale. Or Giuseppe Rotunno’s fantastic cinematography. Every performance and technical detail of this film is pitch perfect. The international cast and dubbing never push the film to a false note. It’s not a brisk movie, but it’s not a moment too long. Simply put, The Leopard is a masterpiece and Lancaster’s performance is the top of the game. Criterion’s Blu-Ray is the reason why HD is such a revelation. The clarity of the image actually adds to the film, opening up Lancaster’s performance and highlighting the extreme subtleties of Visconti’s blocking. This is a reference disc. The reference disc for me actually. The Leopard is a film that needs to be seen in high definition at least once.
WHY IT DIDN’T RANK HIGHER:
The transfer is better than you could wish for and the film is nearly perfect. But, the same goes for Stagecoach. And about fifteen other Criterion Blu-Rays. And a hundred from other companies. The market is flooded with quality product and it seems presentation is finally something studios care about. Criterion tends to focus on the quality of the transfer rather than the new opportunities the format offers, and they are pretty much the best because of it. But the fact remains, a lot of other companies are making exhaustive discs with creative uses of the new technology. And that’s one of the great things about Blu-Rays. The Leopard is still an absolutely essential disc. It’s just as much a case for HD as the newest Pixar film. This isn’t a disc you’ll pop in and skip around showing your friends, but it’s something that lets you see a film in a completely new light. But still, it’s number fifteen because they are better uses of the new format and, yes, better transfers of better films.
THE BEST SUPPLEMENT:
The extras are all from the earlier 3-disc DVD. The American version of the film is included for curiosity’s sake. It’s quite a curiosity too, it’s about twenty minutes shorter and loses a lot for it, but hearing Burt Lancaster’s real voice in the role makes it worth the viewing. It’s a nice piece to be included, but isn’t something you’d watch more than once. Peter Cowie’s commentaries were never my favorite of the early Criterion regulars, but this is one of his better commentaries. When he’s not pointing out the obvious he drops
a lot of behind the scenes info and he spends a great deal of time
talking about Visconti and Lancaster’s distaste and later admiration for
each other that led to a few other great collaborations between the
two. Couple of interviews and a really nicely produced documentary round
out the package.
Somebody doesn’t get to use the salad fork anymore. PastalismMario Puzo’s Stymie.Ye Grand Ole Golden Corral
9.5 out of 10