Luchino Visconti's epic of decadence, set in Germany during 1933 and 1934, parallels the end of a family of industrialists with the rise of Nazism. The films opens with an extravagant dinner celebrating the retirement of the family patriarch, Baron Joachim von Essenbeck, the magnate of a
huge steel enterprise, and his appointment of an outsider, Friedrich Bruckmann (Dirk Bogarde) as temporary head. While at first all seems very respectable and bourgeois, the gathering turns strange when Joachim's grandson, Martin (Helmut Berger) delivers his rendition of Marlene Dietrich's
"Falling in Love Again" dressed in drag. Before the party is over, it is announced that the Reichstag has been burned, symbolizing the end of German democracy. Later, as the highly organized SS plots to annihilate the SA (the populist Fascist front), Martin, a bisexual, sadistic, pedophilic drug
addict who even rapes his own mother, engineers his plot to stop a takeover attempt by Friedrich and Sophie (Ingrid Thulin), Friedrich's lover and Martin's mother.
THE DAMNED is Visconti at his most operatic (the German title is GOTTERDAMMERUNG, after Wagner), containing baroque sets and costumes, highly melodramatic acting, and orgiastic scenes of violence and sex. While it has been criticized on a number of levels (the equating of perverts and pedophiles
with fascists has been done before; its English dialogue is often poor; it indulges in its own distastefulness; it's too long, etc.), the film is a spectacular, meticulously crafted work that cannot fail to elicit some response, be it disgust or appreciation, from its audience.
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