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Ludwig333 af.jpeg
Original film poster
Directed byLuchino Visconti
Written byLuchino Visconti
Enrico Medioli
Suso Cecchi d'Amico
Produced byDieter Geissler [de]
Ugo Santalucia
CinematographyArmando Nannuzzi
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer (USA)
Gloria Filmverleih AG (Germany)
Release date
18 January 1973
7 March 1973
United States:
8 March 1973
15 March 1973
Running time
177 min. (Theatrical)
238 min. (Restored cut)
West Germany
Languagesfilmed in English, later dubbed in Italian and German

Ludwig is a 1973 biographical film directed by Italian director Luchino Visconti about the life and death of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Helmut Berger stars as Ludwig, and Romy Schneider reprises her role as Empress Elisabeth of Austria (from the unrelated 1955 film Sissi and its two sequels). Additionally, Trevor Howard and Silvana Mangano appear in prominent supporting roles as the composer Richard Wagner and his eventual wife Cosima von Bulow Wagner.

The film was made in Munich and other parts of Bavaria at these locations: Roseninsel, Berg Castle, Lake Starnberg, Castle Herrenchiemsee, Castle Hohenschwangau, Linderhof Palace, Cuvilliés Theatre, Nymphenburg Palace, Ettal, Kaiservilla and Neuschwanstein Castle. Visconti suffered a stroke during filming.

As indicated (in Italian) in its closing credits, the film had the distinction of featuring a performance by Franco Mannino[1] of the previously unpublished original piano composition by Richard Wagner, his Elegie in A Flat Major, regarded as his final work for piano.[2]


Munich, 1864: The 18-year-old, idealistic Ludwig is crowned as the King of Bavaria. His first official act is a lavish support for the inspired but indebted composer Richard Wagner, who settles in Munich after Ludwig's request. Ludwig's cabinet cannot understand his support for the arts and is furious about Wagner's expensive lifestyle. Ludwig tries to find a faithful friend in Wagner, whose music he loves, but these hopes get shattered: behind the King's back, Wagner has an affair with Cosima von Bülow, the wife of Wagner's opportunistic conductor Hans von Bülow. In order to avoid a scandal, Wagner has to leave Munich. Ludwig continues to support Wagner and his projects, but he still mistrusts him.

Another important person for Ludwig is Empress Elisabeth of Austria, his independent and charismatic cousin. During a meeting with other aristocratic families in Bad Ischl, Elisabeth and Ludwig get close to each other and they share a kiss. However, Elisabeth is more interested in bringing up a marriage between her beautiful, cultivated sister Sophie and Ludwig, but the king ignores Sophie. Disappointed by Wagner and Elisabeth, Ludwig starts to withdraw from public into dream worlds. Ludwig wants Bavaria to stay neutral in the Austro-Prussian War 1866, but his cabinet has another opinion and they eventually support the Austrian's loser's side. Ludwig ignores the war and stays in his castle, much to the irritation of his younger brother Otto and his close confidant Count Dürckheim. Dürckheim advises him to a marriage in order to prevent loneliness.

Shortly after Ludwig becomes aware of his homosexuality, he suddenly announces his engagement with Sophie in January 1867. His mother and the cabinet send an actress into his apartments, who is instructed to give him sexual experience. Ludwig feels angry about the actress and throws her into his bathtub. Ludwig has doubts if he can be a good husband to Sophie who loves him, and he postpones and eventually cancels the marriage. Instead, he starts having relationships with his servants, although the devout Catholic feels guilt about his homosexuality. Bavaria supports the Prussian army in the Franco-Prussian War 1871, but during the following Unification of Germany the Bavarian King loses a lot of his sovereignty to the Prussian emperor Wilhelm I and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Shortly after the Franco-Prussian War, the mental health of Ludwig's younger brother Otto declines and doctors have to take care of him. Ludwig is shocked by his brother's illness.

Ludwig does not care about politics anymore, instead, he spends his money building Neuschwanstein Castle, Linderhof Palace and Herrenchiemsee. The cabinet feels increasingly frustrated by the eccentric and secluded king's debts. In 1881, the king has a short but fierce friendship with actor Josef Kainz, whose Romeo performance he adores, but Kainz is mostly interested in the king's money. Ludwig also hosts some orgies with his servants. When his cousin Elisabeth wants to visit him after a long time, he refuses to see her.

In 1886, the psychiatrist Bernhard von Gudden declares that Ludwig is insane, following the advice of his scheming Cabinet. With the help of his faithful servants, Ludwig can arrest his cabinet for a few hours. His friends advise him to fight against the accusation that he is insane, but he only feels world-weary and depressed. Eventually, his uncle Luitpold is declared Prince Regent of Bavaria. Ludwig is brought to Berg Castle near Lake Starnberg, where he has to stay under arrest and gets psychological treatment. Two days later, Ludwig and Bernhard von Gudden leave the castle for a walk. A few hours later, their corpses are found in the Lake Starnberg. The film leaves the mysterious death of Ludwig open.


Versions and censorship

The Director's cut by Visconti was over four hours long, which the film's distributors deemed as too long. Ludwig was then shortened to three hours at the premiere in Bonn on 18 January 1973. The cutback was without Visconti's consent, but the director, who was in bad health after a stroke during filming, was not able to stop it. The depiction of Ludwig's homosexuality caused a controversy, particularly in Bavaria, where King Ludwig was admired by many Conservatives. Among the critics was Bavarian prime minister Franz Josef Strauss, who was also at the film's premiere. The distributors feared controversy and a further 55 minutes were cut from the premiere version, reducing the film to two hours. Scenes with homosexual hints and some of the more philosophical dialogues in the film were cut in order to make the film more popular with mainstream audiences.[3]

There are at least four different versions of the film, which according to the All Movie Guide "suffers greatly when shortened, as every moment is essential to the story."[4] German film critic Wolfram Schütte wrote that those who saw the shortened version "haven't seen the film". The film was restored to its four-hour length by Ludwig-film editor Ruggero Mastroianni and Ludwig-screenwriter Suso Cecchi d'Amico in 1980, four years after Visconti's death. This version had its premiere in 1980 at the Venice Film Festival.

In April 2017, Arrow Video released a blu-ray/DVD "limited edition" restoration, including both the full-length theatrical edition at 238 minutes, and a five-part "television version" of the film. The blu-ray edition was restored in 2K resolution from the original 35mm camera negative. Elements that had been censored (excluded) from some earlier releases, such as allusions to Ludwig's homoerotic longing and occasional glimpses of male nudity, are included in Arrow's home video restoration. In addition to the Italian language soundtrack, the Arrow release optionally includes the film's English audio for the first time on home video. The soundtrack was originally created for the 173-minute U.S. version and, as such, portions of the full-length presentation intermittently revert to the Italian dialogue to the extent an English version was either not recorded or not preserved. It appears that some of the principal actors, including Helmut Berger in the lead role, spoke English during the shoot.[5] The limited edition disk set also included a booklet insert about the film and a number of featurettes about the film and its creative team.


  1. ^ "Last Original Work for Piano (Original Soundtrack)". DRG Records. Retrieved 9 April 2021.
  2. ^ "Wagner at the piano: Wilhelm Latchoumia". Retrieved 9 April 2021.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Kauffman, Jeffery. "Ludwig Blu-Ray Limited Edition Review". Retrieved 7 April 2021.

Further reading

External links

This page was last edited on 20 August 2021, at 11:35
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