Cast & Crew
Joachim von Essenbeck, a powerful German industrialist, celebrates his birthday in February 1933. The party is first disrupted by a transvestite performance by his grandson Martin, and then by the news that the Reichstag has been burned. A power struggle over control of the von Essenbeck steelworks develops among Konstantin, Joachim's nephew; Aschenbach, a member of the family and an SS leader; Herbert Thallman, a liberal married to Joachim's grand-niece; and Sophie, Joachim's widowed daughter-in-law who has aligned herself with Friedrich Bruckmann, the executive director of the steelworks. Sophie conspires with Aschenbach to denounce Thallman, a vice-president of the firm, as an anti-fascist, and Herbert is forced to flee the forthcoming political purge. Sophie then persuades Friedrich to kill Joachim with Herbert's gun, and with the aid of her son Martin, she places Friedrich at the head of the firm. Konstantin learns of Martin's sexual desire for young children and blackmails him over Lisa Keller, one of his victims, who hanged herself after being molested. Martin, the major stockholder of the company, transfers his support to Konstantin, but Konstantin's power is short-lived. The SA holds a homosexual orgy at the resort town of Wiesee, and during the Night of the Long Knives, the SS troops arrive and slaughter Konstantin and the others. Sophie and Friedrich attempt to regain power, but Aschenbach, eager to have the steel industry under SS control, tells Martin that it was Friedrich who killed Joachim. Playing upon Martin's hatred of his domineering mother, Aschenbach turns Martin against Sophie; Martin has intercourse with her and forces her to marry Friedrich in a macabre ceremony. Martin's wedding gift to his mother is two capsules of cyanide, which Sophie and Friedrich willingly consume. Aschenbach, who now thoroughly dominates Martin, has finally become the undisputed heir to the von Essenbeck steelworks.
Howard Nelson Rubien
Karl Otto Alberty
Pasquale De Santis
Enzo Del Prato
Best Writing, Screenplay
The Damned (1969)
That all changed dramatically in 1969 when the growing relaxation of film censorship allowed him to make La caduta degli dei, better known by its international title, The Damned. A dark, outrageous, titillating, and violent saga, it shocked audiences with its combination of respectable actors like Dirk Bogarde (who reteamed with Visconti two years later for Death in Venice, 1971) and Ingmar Bergman regular Ingrid Thulin and graphic (for the time) depictions of sex and violence among the idle rich in Nazi Germany. This combination wasn't entirely new, as Roberto Rossellini had discreetly connected debauchery and fascism in his bleak Germany Year Zero in 1948; however, this film took the idea to a far more visceral and large-scale extreme than anyone could have anticipated.
As the Third Reich's grip begins to tighten, the affluent Von Essenbeck clan finds its empire built on industrial steel becoming unstable after the untimely death of its patriarch, Joachim (Albrecht Schönhals). Scheming exec Frederick (Bogarde), a budding fascist with some serious sexual identity issues, joins forces in both finance and sex with the family's eldest daughter, Sophie (Thulin), whose debauched son, Martin (Helmut Berger), spends his time at cabarets doing drag performances as Marlene Dietrich. Meanwhile a variety of SS officials and officers conspire to use the family for its own ends, as Martin becomes a pawn upon whom some of the nastiest crimes may fall. It all leads to the infamous Night of the Long Knives massacre, after which the dynasty takes a dark turn from which it may never recover.
A powerful and stylish allegory about the corruption caused by power and money, The Damned found its message obscured somewhat by the furor over its release, becoming one of the earlier major studio releases to be slapped with an X rating shortly after its creation. (The same fate befell another Warner Brothers import around the same time, Performance, 1970.) In this case the implied subject matter is more unsettling than anything shown onscreen; the brutal central slaughter sequence is certainly strong stuff (and was cut from many prints and video releases), but the pervasive air of sickly indulgence is impossible to wipe out no matter how many scenes could have hit the cutting room floor. Berger's drag performance is certainly an iconic moment (one of several throughout his partnership with Visconti both in front of and behind the camera), but the film offers indelible moments to all of its cast ranging from Helmut Griem (who parlayed this into a role in the similarly-themed Cabaret, 1972) to a very young Charlotte Rampling (who would go on to a more extreme Nazi-themed art house hit with 1974's The Night Porter, also with Bogarde) and Berger's onetime roommate, Florinda Bolkan (who would become a famous face internationally the following year with Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion, 1970).
A major success in many countries including most of Europe and the U.S. (where it played much more widely than most of Visconti's previous films), The Damned instigated several new trends including the director's '70s affinity with Germanic subject matter (culminating in his mammoth and widely misunderstood Ludwig, 1972) and a string of lurid Nazi-themed films for the subsequent decade (mostly from Italy) culminating with Tinto Brass' outrageous Salon Kitty in 1976 (which reteamed Berger and Thulin).
Hardly the most prolific director of his generation, Visconti alternated between lush color films and stark black and white ones well into the 1960s; as such, his visual style seemed to be split in two, leaving audiences unsure what to expect each time he released a new film. This one proved to be a shock yet again as it's a film drenched in darkness, filled with cavernous spaces of inky black punctuated with blood reds and unhealthy flesh tones. Equally surprising is its soundtrack, an aggressive concoction by composer Maurice Jarre (who already had two Oscars® under his belt thanks to Lawrence of Arabia 1962) and Doctor Zhivago, 1965). On the surface he seems a surprising choice, though given his recent work on another Nazi-themed epic with The Night of the Generals (1967), perhaps he was just in that kind of mood.
Producer: Ever Haggiag, Alfred Levy
Director: Luchino Visconti
Screenplay: Nicola Badalucco, Enrico Medioli, Luchino Visconti (story and screenplay)
Cinematography: Pasquale De Santis, Armando Nannuzzi
Art Direction: Pasquale Romano
Music: Maurice Jarre
Film Editing: Ruggero Mastroianni
Cast: Dirk Bogarde (Frederick Bruckmann), Ingrid Thulin (Sophie Von Essenbeck), Helmut Griem (Aschenbach), Helmut Berger (Martin Von Essenbeck), Renaud Verley (Gunther Von Essenbeck), Umberto Orsini (Herbert Thallman), Rene Koldehoff (Konstantin Von Essenbeck), Albrecht Schonhals (Joachim Von Essenbeck), Florinda Bolkan (Olga), Nora Ricci (Governess).
by Nathaniel Thompson
The Damned (1969)
Luchino Visconti's The Damned on DVD
Wagner is evoked in the dramatic opening scenes that show the molten fires and flames that cascade through an industrial factory, as well as the German title itself: Gotterdammerung. In the Dictionary of Film Makers by Georges Sadoul, the author notes that 'Visconti once described himself as 'very German' and the embryonic German Romanticism of his earlier films has since reached full flowering in the powerful adaptation of Lampedusa's The Leopard (1963), the lurid vision of fatalistic passion, Sandra (1965), and the brilliant, extravagant portrait of society trapped by destiny and decadence, The Damned.' Visconti's theatrical flair certainly picks up after a relatively straightforward narrative start set in Germany, 1933, where a fancy dinner is staged to honor the retiring patriarch of a wealthy family of steel industrialists; the Essenbecks, loosely based on the Krupp family whose steel empire forged the weapons of war that would play a key role in Hitler's rise to power. The opening dinner festivities in The Damned come to a screeching halt when the Reichstag is burned and, from here on out, the Nazi ascension to power mirrors the Essenbecks¿ descent into chaos. The three hour ride that is The Damned, and which earned an X-rating in the U.S., shows Visconti indulging, with gusto, in a recurrent theme of his - the moral disintegration of the family unit. In The Damned, this means that macrocosm of Nazi machinations bond into a bizarre fusion and downward spiral with the microcosm of other realms that include bisexual, pedophiliac, incestuous, and sadistic turns. Familiar faces amongst the cast include Dirk Bogarde (1921 - 1999) and Charlotte Rampling (who is still sizzling on the screen, as is witnessed in Francois Ozon's Swimming Pool, 2003).
Warner Bros DVD release of The Damned presents the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, with options for English, Spanish, and French subtitles. A somewhat dated, ten minute-long, behind-the-scenes look at the director brazenly announces how 'One man stands out among the lengthy list of film artists. One man is recognized throughout the world as THE creative genius of modern films ' his name is Count Luchino Visconti di Modrone; but they call him Visconti.' Despite the hagiographic bent of this behind-the-scenes look at the director, it presents no spoilers and it lets the viewer see the man behind the camera while at work. Ironically, the bombastic theatrical trailer included on the DVD is riddled with spoilers for the film, thus inspiring a cautionary note for viewers to save the trailer for last.
For more information about The Damned, visit Warner Video. To order The Damned, go to TCM Shopping.
by Pablo Kjolseth
Luchino Visconti's The Damned on DVD
Released in Italy in 1969[?] as La caduta degli dei (Götterdämmerung). Original running time: 164 min.
Selected for the National Board of Review's 5 Best Foreign Language Films of 1969.
Selected for the New York Times 10 Best Films of 1969.
Released in United States Winter December 1969
Released in United States Winter December 1969