Film / The Damned

The Damned is a 1969 film by Luchino Visconti.

Set in the early days of Nazi Germany, The Damned depicts the downfall of the Essenbecks, a prosperous German steel family. Patriarch Joachim (Albrecht Schoenhals) announces his retirement from the family business. Frederick Bruckman (Dirk Bogarde), an ambitious company executive, conspires with Joachim's daughter Sophie (Ingrid Thulin) and SS official Aschenbach (Helmut Griem) to murder Joachim and take over the company. This sets off a vicious power struggle between Frederick, Sophie, Aschenbach, Sophie's son Martin (Helmut Berger) and Konstantin (Rene Koldehoff), an SA leader. Caught in the middle is Herbert Thalman (Umberto Orsini), Joachim's vice president whom Frederick frames for Joachim's death, his wife Elizabeth (Charlotte Rampling) and Konstantin's son Gunther (Renaud Verley).

The Damned was extremely controversial in its day, for both its sexual content and graphic violence. It remains a polarizing movie: some critics consider it a masterpiece, others think it's overblown and sensationalistic. Compare for instance Vincent Canby's glowing review with Roger Ebert's scathing one. One notable fan is director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who said it "means as much to the history of film as Shakespeare to the history of theater."

Not to be confused with a 1947 French film or the British punk band.


Tropes used by the film:

  • Aborted Arc: One early scene alludes to Herbert stealing corporate documents during his flight from Germany, hence rendering him potentially dangerous. This however is quickly forgotten - it's not even mentioned when Herbert returns - leading viewers to wonder what threat Herbert poses to the Nazis, or why his family has to suffer. Aschenbach even lampshades this, saying that foreign industrialists "won't be able to make use" of Herbert's documents.
  • Affably Evil: Aschenbach is a trope codifier. Whether he's wooing Frederick, threatening Sophie or negotiating with the Army, he's constantly smiling and speaking in a friendly, even tone of voice. Which only makes him more menacing.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Averted. Aside from Konstantin, the Essenbecks only deal with the Nazis in the course of business (Joachim in particular seems disgusted by Hitler). We also see Herbert and his family persecuted as dissidents, and a scene where SA leader Konstantin argues with Aschenbach and several Wehrmacht generals.
  • Blackmail: Konstantin offers to Martin to cover his dirty affair with the Jewish little girl in exchange of being nominated president of the company. Later he's Hoist by His Own Petard.
  • Break the Cutie: Gunther's arc from sensitive violinist to prospective SS recruit.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Aschenbach and Sophie's meeting halfway through the film. Sophie tries to throw her weight around, threatening to withhold support from the Nazis unless they allow Frederick to inherit the steelworks. Aschenbach doesn't take it well.
  • The Chess Master: Aschenbach masterfully manipulates everyone around him.
  • Cool Uncle: Gunther looks at Herbert as a father figure given his Fantasy Forbidding Father.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Aschenbach assures that Martin's relationship with the little girl and her suicide won't be investigated at all because she was Jewish. And of course because he's soooo rich and powerful...
  • Driven to Suicide: The Jewish girl who is raped by Martin. And at the end, Frederick and Sophie.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: We know that Elizabeth died in a concentration camp only because her husband tells about it.
  • Dumb Struck: Sophie after being raped by her son.
  • Evil Uncle: Konstantin blackmails Martin for his dirty business with the Jewish girl. But Martin is pure evil himself, so...
  • Face–Heel Turn: Gunther, at the end. From the White Sheep of the family at the end he's duped into joining the Nazi party.
  • Fantasy Forbidding Parent: Konstantin wants his son to stop fooling with violins and literature and learning the family's business.
  • Frame-Up: Herbert is blamed for Joachim's murder. Symbolically parallels the Reichstag Fire occurring on the same day.
  • Freudian Excuse: If ever any movie character had one, it's Martin. Lost his father in World War One and is constantly reminded of his heroism; his mother is a domineering schemer with strong squicky hints of incest. Little wonder he turned out so messed up.
  • Gambit Pileup: Among Frederick and the Essenbecks, at least. Aschenbach proves a master of Xanatos Speed Chess and takes advantage of their discord.
  • Happily Married: Herbert and Elisabeth until Diabolus ex Machina comes.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Konstantin blackmails Martin and uses his leverage to reroute arms shipments to the SA. This convinces Aschenbach to mark Konstantin for extermination in the Night of the Long Knives.
  • Hollywood History: The Night of the Long Knives compresses numerous disparate murders and arrests, spread over three days and across different parts of Germany, into a giant massacre of SA members at a single location in one, well, night. Not to mention Visconti's depiction of the SA staging a gay orgy.
    • Yeah, that last part is actually pretty accurate.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: Obviously old Joachim sees Martin as one.
  • I've Come Too Far: Frederick experiences this right before the Night of the Long Knives:
    "I've accepted a ruthless logic and I shall never get away from it."
  • Karma Houdini: Martin, at the end of the movie, who has joined the Nazi party and he can do as he pleases. But of course we know how it will end.
  • Only Sane Man: Herbert appears to be early on with his Cassandra Truth speech, but his outspokenness borders on What an Idiot considering he's lecturing people either indifferent towards or supportive of the Nazis.