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Gavin Schmitt

Blu-ray Review: "Ludwig" (1973)

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Historical evocation of Ludwig, king of Bavaria (Helmut Berger), from his crowning in 1864 until his death in 1886, as a romantic hero. Fan of Richard Wagner (Trevor Howard), betrayed by him, in love with his cousin Elisabeth of Austria (Romy Schneider), abandoned by her, tormented by his homosexuality (or bisexuality?), he will little by little slip towards madness.

Special attention must first be drawn to Romy Schneider, who reprises her role as Empress Elisabeth of Austria (from the 1955 film "Sissi" and its two sequels). Playing the same role four times? Admirable... not uncommon, perhaps, but it definitely makes it a character you know deep in your soul. Perhaps this story should have been told from her angle?

This really is a European epic. The "epic film" seems to be mainly an American thing, or somethings a British thing, but not typically a continental thing. This is the exception, and it really chronicles a man who is no longer very well known. I am not sure why, other than that perhaps the Bavarian monarchy doesn't really resonate with modern audiences. Though many films have been made about Ludwig, the fact remains his bloodline is quite distant from any ruling family.

The late, great critic Roger Ebert was not a fan of the film, or Visconti in general. He said of this feature that "the movie is so lethargic and persistently uninteresting" and considered it "merciful" to see it cut in order to avoid endless amounts of "penetrating stares". Ebert may have never come around to loving the film (he gave it one star), but its reputation has grown over the years.

Luckily for fans, Arrow Academy has given "Ludwig" the royal treatment. A 4K scan of the negative makes the picture look better than it ever has. And, of course, Arrow packs the film with extras: an interview with Helmut Berger, an interview with legendary screenwriter Suso Cecchi d'Amico ("Bicycle Thieves" and many others). A half-hour look at actress Silvana Mangano ("Bitter Rice") and a full hour on Luchino Visconti.

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