Plot: What’s it about?
In nineteenth century Italy, there is immense tension between the social classes, tension which never ceases to increase. The aristocratic upper class has the edge on the working class and poor, a trend which never changes. The classes continue to drift apart, creating a gap that only serves to add to the intense emotions on both sides. A rebellion soon began to take hold, one driven by the middle classes and aimed at a total social overhaul. Not just a move to get some concessions, but a movement to change the nation forever. Don Fabrizio (Burt Lancaster) is a stalwart of the old ways, an old school aristocrat in his waning hours. But he also senses that his order is about to come to an end, though he is left with few options to uphold his lifestyle. His nephew Tancredi (Alain Delon) has chosen to battle on the side of the middle class, an odd move at first glance, but one which ensures him a place high in the new establishment. He is driven by his conscience to an extent, but the lure of continued prominence is also an issue. Fabrizio is aware of his nephew’s actions and in order to keep some control over his lifestyle, he works some old fashioned magic. A marriage is arranged between powerful families, which could secure future power for both sides. But will this marriage be the start of a new dawn of power for Fabrizio, or the start of his downfall and his descent from his lofty position?
You’ll see a tidal wave of two disc editions out there, but three disc editions are a rare breed, even in the supplement laden realm of DVD. But for the first home video release of The Leopard, Criterion has pulled out all the stops in this triple disc version. In addition to the over three hour cut of the movie itself, you’ll find a slew of bonus materials and even the American version of the movie, which is a real treat. In other words, a definitive treatment the first time out, a rare event with so many re-releases out there. The movie deserves such a lavish edition too, as The Leopard is a dark, complex look at morals in the social elite. The class issues and other political content do pack a strong punch, but this is not an isolated experience. So you don’t need to know the era to appreciate this picture, as the themes are universal, though certain European textures are obvious. I still think almost anyone could relate to the characters and situations however, even if some elements are strictly European by design. I do think some folks will dislike the slow pace and reliance on dialogue, so this is not the kind of film everyone will love. But the direction is excellent and the performances are superb across the board. I recommend The Leopard to open minded film fans and with this three disc edition, there’s no excuses.
Video: How does it look?
The Leopard is presented in 2.21:1 anamorphic widescreen. As always, Criterion has went to great lengths to provide an excellent visual treatment, which involves extensive digital restoration to enhance the source material. This is the film’s debut on American home video, so Criterion has made sure the first transfer is an incredible one. I was stunned with this treatment, as the image is so clean and shows so much depth, it looks almost brand new. The print has been cleaned up, so debris and grain never prove to be an issue in the least. I found colors to be a tad worn, but still more than solid and contrast was consistent throughout. In short, this is another notch in the belt of Criterion, who continue to impress with their great treatments.
Audio: How does it sound?
The film’s intended Italian soundtrack is preserved here, via a mono option that has been restored to remove imperfections. The result is a clean, more refined presentation, one that has minimal instances of age related errors. So clicks and pops are absent, while hiss is never an issue even in the slightest. The audio is a little thin, but that is to be expected and of course, this movie is not meant to be that dynamic. So rather basic at times, yes, but the audio is up to snuff and more than handles the needs of the material. You can also enable new and improved English subtitles, if you should need those.
Supplements: What are the extras?
An audio commentary with film historian Peter Cowie starts us off, a session that is sure to please film fans. As always, Cowie is well researched and provides a lot of insight, but never comes off as dull in the least. His comments are worthwhile, but he moves at a brisk pace and has a tone that stays light. On the second disc, we begin with A Dying Breed, an hour long look behind the scenes of The Leopard. This piece includes interviews with numerous cast and crew members, who give us an “on the set” feel with their memories. This is priceless, as we learn things that you couldn’t know unless you were involved with the shoot. A brief interview with a historian deals with the real life politics covered in the film, then we move to a twenty minute interview with the film’s producer, who details his thoughts. This second disc is also home to some still photos, a selection of newsreels, and three of the film’s theatrical trailers. The third disc houses the 161 minute American version of The Leopard. In addition to a shorter duration, this edition is in English and that means we hear the voice of Burt Lancaster. A treasured addition to this release and without a doubt, one no other studio would have given us.