The Damned (1969): Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti's haunting saga of moral and cultural decadence

A haunting portrayal of the Holocaust madness

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews 
The Damned (1969), Italian: La caduta degli dei; German: Die Verdammten (Götterdämmerung), Directed by Luchino Visconti, starring Dirk Bogarde, Ingrid Thulin and Helmut Berger (dressed as a transvestite)
The Damned (1969) By Luchino Visconti
Our Rating: 9.5
IMDb Ratings: 7.4
CastDirk Bogarde, Ingrid Thulin, Helmut Berger
Country: Italy | West Germany
LanguageItalian | German
Runtime: 156
ColorColor (Eastmancolor)

Summary: The dramatic collapse of a wealthy, industrialist/Junker family during the reign of the Third Reich.

The Damned is a 1969 film directed by master Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti. The Damned is also the first installment in Visconti’s "The German Trilogy"—the last two being Death in Venice (1971) and Ludwig (1973). The movie stars Dirk Bogarde, Ingrid Thulin, Helmut Berger and Helmut Griem in major roles. The Damned is a haunting work of art, one that may be remembered as the boldest and most disturbing depiction of artistic freedom in all cinema. Visconti brilliantly balances his baroque visual style with poignant motifs oozing with symbolism, allegory and metaphors. The Damned is highly reflective of the stylistic shift in Visconti’s cinema vis-à-vis his earlier neorealistic works. Influenced by the works of Wilhelm Reich, Visconti examines the rise of National Socialism (Nazism) and its disastrous effects upon the German aristocracy through the microcosm of the sybaritic Essenbecks—an opulent industrialist family constituting mostly of misfits, opportunists, power seekers, and sexual perverts.

Ravishing Ingrid Thulin as Sophie Von Essenbeck in The Damned, Directed by Luchino Visconti
Ravishing Ingrid Thulin as Sophie Von Essenbeck in The Damned
The Damned is set in the 1930s at the beginning of the Nazi upsurge in Germany. The Essenbeck family is loosely based on the prominent Krupp family of Germany, whose steel company was based in Essen. In their endless pursuit of power and money, the Essenbecks choose to play along with the Nazis, descending into the abyss of moral corruption. Their naked lust for supremacy soon turns internecine as they unconscientiously betray and murder those of their own kin triggering chaos and annihilation. Such is the graphic intensity of Visconti’s ostentatious showmanship that it may unsettle the calmest of the minds. The Damned is a testament to the genius of Visconti who at the height of his power produced cinema that transcended the conventional boundaries and tackled themes that even today are considered forbidden. The Damned is often described as hysterical... but, can a movie set during the tumultuous phase of Nazi holocaust be anything but hysterical? The movie‘s ensemble cast comprises international actors (led by Swedish Ingrid Thulin, English Dirk Bogarde and Austrian Helmut Berger), and it does take some time to get used to their different accents.

The Damned (1969), Directed by Luchino Visconti, Dirk Bogarde as Frederick Bruckmann and Helmut Berger as Martin Von Essenbeck in The Damned
Dirk Bogarde and Helmut Berger in The Damned
Those who have already watched another of Visconti's masterpieces, Death in Venice would be greatly surprised to witness the Italian maestro's range as a filmmaker. The subtlety and timidity that underline Death in Venice are completely absent here, at least in an explicit sense, and are replaced by the expressions of brusqueness and chutzpah in full effect. Dirk Bogarde plays a Macbeth-like character with religious fervor. While his remarkable performance in Death in Venice is easily his best ever (arguably, one of the all-time best performances in the history of cinema), his portrayal of a rather insecure usurper named Frederick Bruckmann in The Damned is nothing short of brilliant. 

The Damned (1969), Directed by Luchino Visconti, Ingrid Thulin as Sophie Von Essenbeck and Helmut Berger Martin Von Essenbeck in The Damned
Ingrid Thulin and Helmut Berger in The Damned
But, the real star of the show is Ingrid Thulin. Those who have seen Thulin in Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece Winter Light (1962) will get the shock of their lives. As the imperious, glacial, and ravishing Sophie Von Essenbeck (in The Damned), Thulin is a sight for the sore eyes, an elixir for the perturbed souls, a haunting spectacle for the envious. Helmut Berger, a Visconti regular, is mesmerizing in his portrayal of Sophie's effeminate son, Martin. The scenes between Thulin and Berger are pure gold. It is the ever growing tension between the mother-son duo that gives the movie its real impetus.

The Damned (1969), The marriage scene, Ingrid Thulin as Sophie and Dirk Bogarde as Frederick Bruckmann get married,  Directed by Luchino Visconti
A Still from Luchino Visconti's The Damned
Overall, The Damned is a timeless piece of cinema meant to satisfy the deepest cravings of the thinking man. The Damned is replete with homosexuality, transvestitism, pedophilia, incest, gore and endless grotesqueries, and makes contemporary holocaust films like Schindler's List (1993) and The Pianist (2002) appear juvenile. Maurice Jarre's hypnotic music immensely adds to the movie's overall dark, eerie feel. The movie serves to be a highlight reel of some of the most unforgettable sequences ever filmed: the haunting depiction of “The Night of the Long Knives” massacre and the ludicrous homosexual orgy stand out as best among equals. The Damned is a profoundly disturbing work of cinema that captures the pervasive insanity of the holocaust days as an irrefutable proof of the diabolical, debasing, and animalistic character that underlines the dark side of human psyche. The Damned is not meant for the faint-hearted and can only be savored by eschewing bigotry, prejudice, and conservatism. The Damned can be a difficult film to watch for the uninitiated audience. While a casual viewer may be unruffled by the movie's convoluted plot, a patient viewer will be thoroughly rewarded. A must watch for those who understand and appreciate intelligent and thought-provoking cinema!

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!  


1). Italian Cinema (2002, Author: Peter Bondanella) 

2). Wikipedia

3). IMDb 

The Damned (1969) Trailer

Previous Review: Duck, You Sucker (1971)

Next Review: Magic (1978)

Complete List of Reviews
The Damned (1969), Directed by Luchino Visconti, Ingrid Thulin as Sophie, Helmut Griem as Aschenbach

The Damned, Directed by Luchino Visconti, Helmut Berger as Martin Von Essenbeck, Transvestite, dressed as a female dancer

The Damned (1969), Dirk Bogarde as Frederick Bruckmann, Ingrid Thulin as Sophie, Intimate Bedroom Scene

The Damned (1969), Directed by Luchino Visconti, Homosexual Orgy, The The Night of the Long Knives Massacre

The Damned (1969), Directed by Luchino Visconti, The The Night of the Long Knives Massacre, The SS Officers open fire

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  1. Another blind spot for me. However, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  2. My pleasure... it's a rare pleasure that one seldom enjoys, especially while corresponding with aficionados like yourself. Btw, I would love to hear your thoughts on the movie once you have seen it. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the full movie on youtube.

  3. I'm not so fond of watching films on youtube, but I'll keep that in mind as a last resort.


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