Butchered by 20th Century Fox in the early 60s (who redubbed it, reprocessed it, and snipped at it with the scissors so that its original running time was reduced by around 40 minutes), "The Leopard" ought to have been one of director Luchino Visconti's most opulent - and most respected - films. Instead, print and copyright problems over its home video release in the UK consigned it to relative obscurity on the film festival circuit.
Thinking that they had a sure-fire hit on their hands, 20th Century Fox were more interested in the fact that the film starred Burt Lancaster as Sicilian aristocrat Prince Salina than Visconti's meditation on social upheaval and historical drama. As time has proved, though, they were wrong. Restored in the 80s and 90s, the film's true splendour has now been reinstated.
As the story of Prince Salina and his rebellious nephew (Alain Delon), who joins Garibaldi's revolutionaries then falls in love with the daughter of a nouveax riche merchant, unfolds, it's clear that Visconti (an aristocrat himself by birth) has a personal investment in this tale.
Capturing the beauty and grandeur of this rich, lavish world, Visconti's visuals - shot in Technicolor and Technirama - show a painter's eye for detail and lighting, culminating in the film's most famous sequence, a huge ballroom dance employing hundreds of extras in a gorgeous array of costumes.
In the lead role, Lancaster (almost unrecognisable behind a bushy moustache and thick mutton chops) carries the emotion of the Prince with true class, as Visconti takes us on a journey into the heart of the upheaval caused by Garibaldi's revolution.
A masterpiece in the truest sense of the word, "The Leopard" is the kind of magisterial filmmaking that Visconti's more famous "Death in Venice" could only ever dream of being.