The Damned (1969 film)

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The Damned
The Damned Poster.jpg
American film poster
Italian: La caduta degli dei
German: Die Verdammten
Directed byLuchino Visconti
Written byNicola Badalucco
Enrico Medioli
Luchino Visconti
Produced byEver Haggiag
Alfred Levy
CinematographyPasqualino De Santis
Armando Nannuzzi
Edited byRuggero Mastroianni
Music byMaurice Jarre
Ital-Noleggio Cinematografico
Pegaso Cinematografica
Distributed byItal-Noleggio Cinematografico (Italy)
Warner Bros.-Seven Arts (International)
Release date
  • 14 October 1969 (1969-10-14) (Rome premiere)
  • 16 October 1969 (1969-10-16) (Italy)
  • 27 January 1970 (1970-01-27) (West Germany)
Running time
154 minutes[1]
West Germany
Budget$2 million[2]
Box office2,638,507 admissions (France)
$1.2 million (US/Canada rentals)[3]

The Damned[a] is a 1969 historical drama film directed by Luchino Visconti, co-written by Visconti with Nicola Badalucco and Enrico Medioli, and starring Helmut Berger, Dirk Bogarde, Ingrid Thulin, Helmut Griem, Umberto Orsini, Charlotte Rampling, Florinda Bolkan, and Albrecht Schönhals in his final film. Set in 1930s Germany, the film centers on the Essenbecks, a wealthy industrialist family who have begun doing business with the Nazi Party, and whose amoral and unstable heir, Martin, is embroiled in his family's machinations. It is loosely based on the Krupp family of steel industrialists from Essen, Germany.

Principal photography of The Damned took place in locations throughout Italy and West Germany, including Rome's Cinecittà Studios. The film opened to widespread critical acclaim, but also faced controversy from ratings boards for its sexual content, including depictions of homosexuality, pedophilia, rape, and incest. In the United States, the film was given an X rating by the MPAA and was only lowered to a more-marketable R after twelve minutes of offending footage were cut.

Visconti won the Nastro d'Argento for Best Director, and was nominated for an Best Original Screenplay Oscar with co-writers Nicola Badalucco and Enrico Medioli. Helmut Berger received a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcomer.


In 1930s Germany, the Essenbecks are a wealthy and powerful industrialist family who have begun doing business with the Nazi Party. On the night of the Reichstag fire in early 1933, the family's conservative patriarch, Baron Joachim von Essenbeck, who represents the old aristocratic Germany and detests Hitler, is celebrating his birthday. The celebration is first disrupted by a drag performance put on by Joachim's grandson Martin, after which the family receive news that the Reichstag has been burned.

Martin's possessive mother (and Joachim's widowed daughter-in-law), Sophie, has aligned herself with Friedrich Bruckmann, an executive of the family's steelworks with whom she carries on a sexual relationship. With the help of her family member, an SS leader named Aschenbach,[b] Sophie arranges to have Joachim murdered, with the hope that Martin will usurp control of the family empire. Meanwhile, Aschenbach pits factions of the family against each other to move their steel and munition works into state control. Friedrich carries out Joachim's murder, and Herbert Thalmann, the family firm's vice president, who openly opposes the Nazis, is framed for the crime. Herbert escapes the grasp of the Gestapo, but his wife Elizabeth and their children do not.

The family's empire passes to the control Joachim's unscrupulous nephew, the boorish SA officer Konstantin. Waiting in the wings are Konstantin's son Günther, a sensitive and troubled music student, as well as the amoral, sexually-deviant playboy Martin. Konstantin discovers that Martin has been sexually abusing his nieces, as well as Lisa Keller, a poor Jewish girl, who eventually commits suicide after Martin assaults her. Armed with this information, Konstantin blackmails Martin to obtain his alliance, though it is short-lived.

In 1934, the SA—Konstantin among them—have a meeting at a hotel in Bad Wiessee to discuss their dissatisfaction with Hitler. The evening is depicted as a drunken celebration, ending with the male SA officers engaging in gay sex with one another. At dawn, the hotel is stormed by SS troops who slaughter various SA, including Konstantin. After the massacre, Aschenbach dismisses Friedrich—who, upon Konstantin's death, now controls the family fortunes—as a weak social climber and disloyal Nazi.

Herbert unexpectedly arrives to visit the family, revealing that Elizabeth and their children were sent to Dachau concentration camp, where Elizabeth died. Herbert offers himself to the Gestapo in return for the freedom of his children. Aschenbach makes a deal with the discounted and ignored heir, Martin, to remove Friedrich and Sophie from control, so that Martin may get what is owed him. Martin, who is revealed to suffer from a morphine addiction, has sex with his mother, who subsequently falls into a catatonic state. Now a part of the SS, Martin allows Friedrich, who by decree has inherited the name and title of von Essenbeck, to wed his mother. After Friedrich and Sophie marry, Martin then offers them cyanide capsules, which they willingly consume, killing them both. Aschenbach, who now has complete control over Martin, becomes the effective heir to the von Essenbeck steelworks, leaving the empire under Nazi control.


Dirk Bogarde and Ingrid Thulin in The Damned.

"The German Trilogy"[edit]

The Damned has been regarded as the first of Visconti's films described as "The German Trilogy", followed by Death in Venice (1971) and Ludwig (1973). Author Henry Bacon, in his book Visconti: Explorations of Beauty and Decay (1998), specifically categorizes these films together in a chapter "Visconti & Germany".

Visconti's earlier films had analyzed Italian society during the Risorgimento and postwar periods. Peter Bondanella's Italian Cinema (2002) depicts the trilogy as a move to take a broader view of European politics and culture. Stylistically, "They emphasize lavish sets and costumes, sensuous lighting, painstakingly slow camerawork, and a penchant for imagery reflecting subjective states or symbolic values", comments Bondanella.[4]


Unterach am Attersee, where the "Night of Long Knives" sequence was filmed.

The film was shot on-location in West Germany, Austria, and Italy; and at Cinecittà Studios in Rome. Locations included Attersee Lake, Düsseldorf, Essen, Unterach am Attersee (doubling for Bad Wiessee), and the steelworks at Terni.

The Damned was the breakthrough role for Helmut Berger, who is given an "Introducing" credit (though he had already appeared in Visconti's segment of The Witches). At the time, Berger was in a romantic relationship with Visconti. Dirk Bogarde later expressed disappointment with Visconti for sacrificing his character's development in lieu of as greater focus on Berger's. In his memoirs, Bogarde specifically cites a long scene showing Frederick immediately after murdering Joachim, instantly becoming overwhelmed with guilt, which was filmed but cut.

Composer Maurice Jarre was hired by the producers without Visconti's knowledge, who originally wanted the film scored entirely with pre-existing classical music by Gustav Mahler and Richard Wagner. He was reportedly dissatisfied with the composer's efforts, which he compared disparagingly to his work for Doctor Zhivago, but was forced to include his compositions due to contractual obligations.

The character "Aschenbach" was named for the protagonist of Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, which Visconti later adapted into a 1971 film of the same name.


Reinhard Kolldehoff in the controversial "Night of the Long Knives" sequence, which was cut from the US release version.

After the first screening of the film, 12 minutes were cut, including a scene where a young Jewish girl hangs herself after being molested.[2] The US version additionally cut much of the Bad Wiessee and subsequent Night of the Long Knives sequence. The footage was later restored on the 2004 DVD release, albeit in German.

The film was given an "X" rating by the MPAA due to a nude incest scene.[2] Warner Bros. submitted the film for re-classification for its DVD release of the film in 2004. The film's rating was changed from an "X" to an "R".

The film was heavily edited when shown on CBS television late at night, leading one executive to joke that the film should be retitled The Darned. This technically made it the first X-rated film to be shown on American network television.

In the English-language version, Umberto Orsini's voice is re-dubbed by an uncredited actor, due to his thick Italian accent.


The film opened to worldwide acclaim.[citation needed] It received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay and was named Best Foreign Film by the National Board of Review. Among the international cast, Helmut Berger was singled out for his performance as Martin, a vicious sexual deviant who uses his amoral appetites to his own twisted ends. The film was the tenth-most popular movie at the French box office in 1970.[5]

The film has appeared on critics' lists such as the New York Times Best 1000 Movies Ever Made[6] and Halliwell's Top 1000: The Ultimate Movie Countdown.[7]

The film's entry in the Lexikon des Internationalen Films praises it for its presentation of the connection of "moral decadence, sexual neurosis, aestheticist death wish, narcissist self-centeredness and political opportunism", also saying that the effect is partially weakened by the film's "decorative circuitousness and artificial stylisation."[8]

Filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder's called The Damned his favorite movie. He called it "perhaps the greatest film, the film that I think means as much to the history of film as Shakespeare to the history of theater."[citation needed]

Home media[edit]

The Damned was released on DVD by Warner Home Video in 2004.[9] A 2K restoration of the film by the Cineteca di Bologna and Institut Lumière was released on Blu-ray and DVD by the Criterion Collection on 28 September 2021.[10]


  1. ^ Italian: La caduta degli dei, lit.'The Fall of the Gods'; German: Die Verdammten, lit.'The Damned'. The Italian title La caduta degli dei is the conventional translation of the term Götterdämmerung (with its Wagnerian association), but for the German version, the title Die Verdammten ("The Damned") was chosen. All versions, however, use Götterdämmerung as a subtitle.
  2. ^ The character of Aschnebach's SS rank is anachronistic, as the "Hauptsturmführer" rank did not exist until late 1934, after the film's events, when it replaced the equivalent rank of Sturmhauptfuhrer.


  1. ^ "The Damned (X)". British Board of Film Classification. 19 September 1969. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  2. ^ a b c "Traumatic 'Leopard' Experience Made Visconti Skeptical, But Extols WB". Variety. 17 December 1969. p. 7.
  3. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1970". Variety. 6 January 1971. p. 11.
  4. ^ Bonadella, Peter (12 October 2009). A History of Italian Cinema. p. 264. ISBN 9781441160690.
  5. ^ "1970 Box Office in France". Box Office Story.
  6. ^ Peter M. Nichols, A. O. Scott (February 2004). The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made. ISBN 9780312326111.
  7. ^ Walker, Peter (2005). Halliwell's Top 1000. ISBN 9780007181650.
  8. ^ "Zweitausendeins. Filmlexikon FILME von A-Z - Die Verdammten (1968)".
  9. ^ Erickson, Glenn (13 February 2004). "DVD Savant Review: The Damned (Götterdämmerung)". DVD Talk. Retrieved 15 June 2021.
  10. ^ "The Damned (1969)". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 15 June 2021.

External links[edit]