Criterion's "The Leopard" (Il Gattopardo) incorporates some of the extras from the earlier 2-disc Italian Medusa release: 2 very funny newsreels of the Nastri Ceremonies, in which producer Goffredo Lombardo receives the Best Producer Award, while the narrator adds repeatedly snide comments over highlighted celebrities (and some horse footage, redolent of a morbid Mondo movie).
An interview with producer Lombardo has also been ported over (on Disc 2), and it's a straightforward Q&A as the producer describes the project's genesis, working with maniacally detail-oriented Luchino Visconti, the film's stellar cast, and the overwhelming cost of "The Leopard" that bankrupted his Titanus Films.
In spite of snagging the Golden Palm award at Cannes in 1963, "The Leopard" fared poorly with Italian critics - perhaps pricked by the film's opulence, while New Wave directors were creating less epic dramas similar to Visconti's early career - whereas in the U.S., the film was sold to audiences as a kind of "Gone With The Wind" western epic ("HERE is the VIOLENCE… and LAUGHTER" scream the archived trailers).
After the original Technovision footage was transferred to CinemaScope with Deluxe colour, Twentieth Century-Fox shortened the film by 24 minutes. Though advertised as being in the tradition of "The Longest Day" and "Cleopatra," the studio obviously felt Visconti's broad pacing needed some tightening; what was lost ran from occasional shots to complete scenes, each detailed by Peter Cowie in his feature-length commentary for the longer version, on Disc 1.
Cowie has remained smitten with this magnificent film since its original release. His comments are a thoughtful, well-paced stream of production facts, and the overall tone remains fully accessible to general film fans, balancing facts with critical & theoretical thoughts. More importantly, Cowie reads from Giuseppe Di Lampedusa's novel over selected passages to indicate how much Visconti and his screenwriters got right; from subtle camera gestures and background décor, to slight performance details and dialogue, the obvious love the director had for the novel is at the forefront.
Producer Lombardo knew he needed a major star to attract an English audience, and though Visconti initially scoffed at Burt Lancaster's appointment as star, the move resulted in one of Lancaster's best performances. Ironically, his seamless role as Prince Salina is aided by Visconti's insistence on superb dubbing by well-chosen Italian actors.
It's at this point one may wonder why some effort wasn't made to create a special English mix, editing elements from the English dub track (including Lancaster's own voice) into the longer version, subtitling those scenes for which there's no English material. That explanation is astutely dissected by Sidney Pollack, who was engaged by Lancaster to supervise the original English dub track.
Interviewed for the making-of documentary on Disc 2, Pollack explains the odd qualities of imprecisely synced foreign language tracks vs. colloquial-flavoured English dubbing, and notes Lancaster's own realization that his American voice and delivery simply did not suit his character; in gestures, mannerisms and physicality, he was perfect, but the Italian voice added the right polish to Lancaster's otherwise beautiful performance.
Claudia Cardinale, also interviewed for the documentary, adds her own memories of Lancaster, Visconti, and the seemingly chaotic methodology of filming scenes in different languages. Also interviewed are the film's cinematographer, costume designer, and acidic screenwriter Suso Cecchi d'Amico. The latter provides some wonderful details on adapting Di Lampedusa's sole literary effort, and the political references throughout the film.
Taking place during Italy's Risorgimento (Resurgence) period, Criterion recorded an informative interview with Italian scholar Millicent Marcus, who traces the key figures that laid the foundation for establishing, at the very least, a constitutional monarchy, that brought disparately ruled provinces and states into a more national entity.
Giuseppe Rotunno's cinematography is spectacular in this gorgeous, warm transfer, and Nino Rota's rich score ripples with romantic finesse in the original mono sound mix. Some added restoration info regarding this legendary film would've highlighted the uphill battle of the Italian team that ultimately freed the longer version from its mythic status. Nevertheless, for fans of epic films, this 3-disc edition of "The Leopard" is near-Heaven.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan