Ludwig (1973)


(director/writer: Luchino Visconti; screenwriters: Suso Cecchi d’Amico/Enrico Medioli; cinematographer: Armando Nannuzzi; editor: Ruggero Mastroianni; music: Robert Schumann/Richard Wagner/Jacques Offenbach; cast: Helmut Berger (Ludwig), Trevor Howard (Richard Wagner), Romy Schneider (Empress Elisabetta), Helmut Griem (Count Duerckheim), Silvana Mangano (Cosima Von Buelow), Gert Frobe (Father Hoffmann), John Moulder-Brown (Prince Otto); Runtime: 186; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Dieter Geissler/Ugo Santalucia; MGM; 1973-Italy/France/W.Ger-Italian with English subtitles)
“Though stylish, it remains hollow.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An overlong, boring, and inaccurate historical biopic of the so-called 19th-century castle-building “mad King” of Bavaria, Ludwig (Helmut Berger), who died shrouded in mystery. Though stylish, it remains hollow. It was released in four versions including the longest 256 minute version (not seen by me), which supposedly makes it more coherent. Luchino Visconti (“Death in Venice”/” La Terra Trema”/”The Leopard”), at the tail end of his career, directs it by keeping things a mixture of what’s real and what’s imagined but only cares about the king as a nutty neurotic and making it into spectacle without ideas. It’s written by Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Enrico Medioli and Visconti.

It tells of Ludwig II, king of Bavaria (Helmut Berger), the last ruling king of Bavaria who was born in 1845 and ruled from 1864 to 1886. After ascending the throne when he was 18, he shows an interest only in opera, fairy-tale castles and striking young lads. For most of the film he spends too much time obsessed with the music of famed composer Richard Wagner (Trevor Howard), who he sponsored but who betrays the king by loving his cousin–Elisabeth of Austria (Romy Schneider)–someone the king had a platonic relationship with. The hedonistic brooding king indulges in homosexual orgies and will gradually succumb to madness and drown.

One of Visconti’s poorer epics about a debased European society in decline, even though it features good location shots of Bavaria, plenty of actual castles and the costumes are fine. The uncritical too loving direction, the wickedly slow pace and the rambling style for such a soap opera story makes it barely watchable for all but the insufferable.