(out of 5)
The life of the Bavarian prince who died at 40 after barely twenty years on the throne is covered in this four hour period epic by Luchino Visconti, the film he has making when he had the stroke that would contribute to his death four years later. Helmut Berger in capes is a visual feast in itself, playing the nineteenth century monarch whose nation has joined the relatively new German Reich but, in his mind, deserves to retain its autonomy. This makes him a nuisance to the politicans and advisors who surround him, particularly when his attempt to assert Bavarian independence takes the form of spending far too much money on lavish castles and, most notably, his patronage of Richard Wagner (Trevor Howard), which has him depleting the royal coffers for a man who would eventually abandon him. Romy Schneider reprises her most famous role as Austria’s Empress Elisabeth, appearing as the one woman that Ludwig seemed to really love but who could offer him little more than the occasional shoulder to cry on between his tortured affairs with handsome stable boys and servants, while Silvana Mangano also appears as Wagner’s mysterious mistress. The historic panorama on display is not boring, but it doesn’t quite manage to be perpetually riveting throughout its generous running time. The astounding sumptuousness that one has come to expect from Visconti’s work is fully here on display (including gorgeous costume work by Piero Tosi), but there was an eccentricity to the plotting and characters of The Leopard that is missing, the whole thing playing straight with little exception. Its best moments are reminisicent of other, better Visconti films (including giant shots of gowns in ballrooms, and a pale version of the gay orgy from The Damned), though even its driest scenes of intellectual repartee make it worth watching at least for the director’s most ardent fans.
Directed by Luchino Visconti
Cinematography by Armando Nannuzzi
Costume Design by Piero Tosi
Film Editing by Ruggero Mastroianni