directed by Luchino Visconti

starring Helmut Berger, Trevor Howard, Silvana Mangano


If anyone gave us the Disney dream of a king in a turreted castle, it was Ludwig II of Bavaria. He inherited this prosperous and independent state in 1864, but had no interest in running it or chasing women, either. He loved Wagner’s music, spent lavishly, and nearly bankrupted the country. More importantly, he refused to join with the Prussians to create unified Germany. In this lovingly filmed biopic, we meet Ludwig (Berger) as he moons over Wagner’s (Howard) music. It’s lush and romantic and sends the Prince into ecstasy over a fantasy world that could never be real. But Ludwig has money and he IS a king, so he builds a castle complete with a grotto and swan boats. This is Neuschwanstein; it’s the place you see on every German travel poster.

We meet some of his chaste loves. Actor Jacob Kainz (Folker Bohnet) wows Ludwig at a private performance and is invited to visit for a long weekend; things are awkward until and aide advises: “The king invited Romeo to castle Linderhof, not Herr Kainz.” Kainz takes the bait and plays all is best roles until Ludwig’s obsession exhausts him. Meanwhile, the men who actually run Bavaria are appalled, they take the risky path of deposing Ludwig in one of the dampest rainstorms ever filmed. By now Ludwig is red eyed and sliding into madness. He attempts to flee to a tower (how romantic…) with his good-looking aid Dürckheim (Helmut Griem). Failing this, he’s put in a very nice insane asylum, where Professor Von Gudden (Heinz Moog) attempts to treat him with respect and psychoanalysis. It costs both of them their lives.

Berger begins as an attractive young man in a film full of them. His teeth are horrible, but his eyes and his hair scream “German romanticism.” As he slides down the hill, he gradually takes on the look of Vincent Price after a good cry. His aide-de-camp Druckhiem is more the young Robert Redford type, and he has some great “Agonizing over what to say next moments” as he gives the testimony that condemns Ludwig, his best friend. There’s a homoerotic undertone here that seems dissipated. It’s not a plot driver, but just another baroque backdrop in a film full of such ornate decor. But that decor was as much a part of the film as the actors. The locations were all Ludwig’s extravagant fancies, and their names role off the tongue like Wagnerian heroes: Herrenchiemsee, Hohenschwangau, Linderhof, Neuschwanstein, Nymphenburg. Ludwig is a tragic hero just as he imagined himself. He was popular and good looking and his fall from grace is operatic. But one need not look far, such faults as brought down Ludwig are still in full force today. Material for the opera never gets scarce.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Recently on Ink 19...

  • Metallica: The $24.95 Book
    Metallica: The $24.95 Book

    From an underground band that pioneered the thrash metal sound, to arguably the biggest rock act in the new millennium, Metallica has had a long and tumultuous history. Ben Apatoff scours a myriad of sources to catalog this history in his new book.

  • Araceli Lemos
    Araceli Lemos

    Shortly after AFI Fest 2021 wrapped, Generoso spoke at length with director, Araceli Lemos about her award-winning and potent feature debut, Holy Emy. Lemos’s film uses elements of body horror in her story about the exoticization of two Filipina sisters living in Greece and how that exploitation creates a distance between them.

  • Southern Accents 55
    Southern Accents 55

    A woofin’ good time with cuts from Hank Williams, Muddy Waters, Delta Moon and more from KMRD 96.9, Madrid, New Mexico!

  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
    Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

    Absurdism with a healthy dose of air conditioning.

  • Mixtape 172 :: My Old Bassist
    Mixtape 172 :: My Old Bassist

    Like pre-teens throwing every liquid into the kitchen blender and daring each other to drink the results, Woody and Jeremy fuse all manner of sounds legitimate and profane into some murky concoction that tastes surprisingly good.

  • Demons/Demons 2
    Demons/Demons 2

    Synapse Films reissues Lamberto Bava’s epic ’80s gore-filled movies Demons and Demons 2 in beautiful new editions.

  • Sylvie Courvoisier and Mary Halvorson
    Sylvie Courvoisier and Mary Halvorson

    Searching for the Disappearing Hour (Pyroclastic Records). Review by Bob Pomeroy.

  • Payal Kapadia
    Payal Kapadia

    Earlier this year, director Payal Kapadia was awarded the Oeil d’or (Golden Eye) for best documentary at the 74th Cannes Film Festival for her debut feature, A Night of Knowing Nothing. Lily and Generoso interviewed Kapadia about her poignant film, which employs a hybrid-fiction technique to provide a personal view of the student protests that engulfed Indian colleges and universities during the previous decade.

  • Roger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella
    Roger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella

    A classic children’s tale re-imagined by America’s greatest composers.

  • Taraka

    Welcome to Paradise Lost (Rage Peace). Review by Bob Pomeroy.

From the Archives