Making its long-awaited U.S. home video debut, Luchino Visconti's The Leopard is an epic on the grandest possible scale. The film recreates, with nostalgia, drama, and opulence, the tumultuous years when the aristocracy lost its grip and the middle classes rose and formed a unified, democratic Italy. Burt Lancaster stars as the aging prince watching his culture and fortune wane in the face of a new generation, represented by his upstart nephew (Alain Delon) and his beautiful fiancée (Claudia Cardinale). Awarded the Palme d'Or at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival, The Leopard translates Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's novel, and the history it recounts, into a truly cinematic masterpiece. The Criterion Collection is proud to present the film in two distinct versions: Visconti's original 187-minute Italian version, and the alternate 161-minute English-language version released in America, in a newly restored, three-disc special edition that also features a new hour-long documentary on the making of the film, and more.
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With this magnificent Criterion DVD release, Luchino Visconti's 1963 historical drama The Leopard will finally earn widespread recognition as one of the most beautiful epics ever produced. In adapting the popular novel by Giuseppe Tomassi di Lampedusa (an Italian equivalent to Gone with the Wind, set during the tumultuous Garibaldi revolution of 1860-62), Visconti was initially reluctant to cast Burt Lancaster as the melancholy Prince of Salina--the aging aristocrat "leopard" of the title--who accepts change as inevitable during the struggle for a unified Italy. But Lancaster (even with his voice dubbed in the fully restored Italian release) delivered one of his finest performances, modeled after Visconti himself, and reacting to political and familial upheavals with the wisdom and whimsy of a man who knows that his way of life--and all he holds dear--must change with the times. You won't find a more intimate epic, and Giusseppe Rotunno's masterful cinematography represents the pinnacle of painterly beauty, matched only by the authentic splendor of the film's impeccable production design. The climactic hourlong ballroom scene--which even the hard-to-please Pauline Kael called "one of the greatest of all passages in movies"--is utterly breathtaking. Anchored by Lancaster's performance and the romantic pairing of Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale, The Leopard is sheer perfection, fully restored to its 185-minute glory. --Jeff ShannonAdditional Features:
In the scholar/critic category, Peter Cowie's full-length commentary for The Leopard ranks as one of the finest ever recorded--a delightfully unpretentious synthesis of erudition, informed analysis, production history, and biographical detail on Visconti, incorporating well-chosen readings from Lampedusa's source novel to illustrate the elegance of the screenplay adaptation and enhance one's understanding of the story's historical context. (Cowie also notes the Proustian influence on the film's celebrated ballroom sequence.) The hourlong documentary features 2003 interviews with most of the film's surviving cast and screenwriters, and in a dignified interview, producer Goffredo Lombardo expresses his affection for The Leopard despite the fact that his company, Titanus, was bankrupted by the film's exorbitant cost. University of Pennsylvania historian Millicent Marcus provides scholarly detail about the film's lavish historical background. And while it's hard to imagine anyone preferring the now-obsolete, truncated English-dubbed American release that includes Lancaster's own vocal performance, that version is included here for collector value and critical comparison. All in all, The Leopard is yet another polished jewel in Criterion's burgeoning collection of cinematic treasures. --Jeff Shannon
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