In The Leopard, Luchino Visconti's sumptuous epic, the folding of a handkerchief, the ornate pattern of an inlaid floor, or the ruffling of a curtain can generate as much drama as an actor's glance. Lancaster (cast, to Visconti's initial displeasure, after Olivier declined) is the prince of Salina, an aging but still commanding Sicilian patriarch whose privileged life is about to unravel with the unification of Italy in the 1860s. Admittedly a bit dry and obscure at times, it's more often an erudite visual feast -- buttressed by gorgeous art direction and actors (Delon and Cardinale), sensual tracking shots, and Nino Rota's terrific score -- culminating in a bravura 45-minute ballroom sequence. Eye candy of a most rarefied kind (and not surprisingly, an influence on Coppola's ''The Godfather'' and Scorsese's ''The Age of Innocence''). EXTRAS Film scholar Peter Cowie's crisp commentary fluidly connects the film's historical themes with Visconti's contradictory life as a wealthy homosexual aristocrat with Communist leanings. And though the American release with Lancaster speaking in his own voice is included, the uncut Italian version in which he's dubbed is the one to watch.