Urban Cinefile
"It made me sick.."  -Sam Neill on his act with the axe in The Piano
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Thursday July 12, 2018 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



In the first two years of Hitler's push for power (1933-34), the family of munitions magnate Baron von Essenbeck is engaged in a tug-of-war for control of "the factory" and is politically divided in its support of the Nazis. The Baron's daughter-in-law Sophie (Ingrid Thulin) persuades her lover Friedrich (Dirk Bogarde), who is also the company manager, that it would be prudent to forge ties with the fanatical SS man, Aschenbach (Helmut Griem). After ousting the firm's anti-fascist vice president, Friedrich's rise and rise is almost complete, but there is blood on the plotter's hands...the Baron's sexually ambiguous heir Martin (Helmut Berger) has power beyond his control and Aschenbach isn't done with yet.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
The day of The Damned caused ripples of outrage in a worldwide Peace Movement which blossomed to the chants of Ban The Bomb and Make Love Not War. The times were a-changin' in 1969. Under intense pressure, the U.S. began to withdraw its troops from Vietnam and there was promise of an end to social and racial segregation in America and elsewhere.
Inspired by Shakespeare, Luchino Visconti's epic tale of power, deceit and betrayal was like an antidote to flower-power, the beads and the peace-loving hippies, in that it recalled a black chapter in world history and impregnated it with spikes of gross sensationalism and violence. At a sumptuous dinner to celebrate the retirement of the elderly von Essenbeck, the occasion is soured by Martin, the great man's grandson and simpering heir to the steel and munitions dynasty who, dressed in drag, launches into a campy impression of Marlene Dietrich that only his doting mother Sophie approves of.
When his performance is interrupted by an announcement that the Reichstag has gone up in flames, spelling a symbolic end to German democracy, Martin doesn't give a damn about the political consequences and is just snippy that his big moment has been cut short.
In Martin, the sadistic, incestuous, dope-addicted pedophile who interferes with little girls and rapes his own mother, Visconti has enough material for five characters and all of them detestable. But Aschenbach is the smug puppet-master in the ruthless and bloody backstage string-pullings which seek to wrest control of "the factory" and so direct Germany's destiny in the lull before the storm of war.
Blinded by love, lust and greed, Friedrich and Sophie are mere pawns to the smirking fanatic whose machinations reach operatic proportions, turning Nazi against Nazi, cousin against cousin and son against mother. This should be Aschenbach's story, but Visconti becomes too distracted by Martin's perversions. By allowing the handsome Berger to steal the picture, he takes his eye off the swastika and fails to elucidate the motivations of key characters or clear the confusion of their political agendas. He turns the infamous Night Of The Long Knives, when the SS effect a bloody annihilation of the SA which had threatened Hitler's grip on power, into an orgy of homo-erotic towel-flickings that will be bewildering to anyone unaware of the history.
Furthermore, this raucous slab of incident is inexplicably spoken in German when all the rest of it is in English! It seems that Berger wasn't the director's only distraction. He was peeved when he couldn't get Vanessa Redgrave for Sophie and frustrated when the German financiers stalled, fearing that this Italian aristocrat would make an anti-German film (which he did). For a while the actors were not paid; nobody was paid and it appeared that the production, ambitious, overblown and lumpy as it is, would have to be shut down. Visconti was forced to perform some of the special effects himself.
With a plastic bottle of real blood, acquired from a local accident clinic, he splashed the contents over the Baron von Essenbeck's silken sheets, the walls and carpets and over his corpse, of course. Bogarde himself protested the excess. "You are English, Bogarde," Visconti snapped, and he quoted a line from Macbeth: "who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him." And he went on: "Not excessive. I make opera in the cinema; Macbeth is opera; this death is opera."

Published June 17, 2004

Email this article

(Italy / West Germany, 1969)

Gotterdammerung / La Caduta Degli Dei

CAST: Dirk Bogarde, Ingrid Thulin, Helmut Griem, Helmut Berger

DIRECTOR: Luchino Visconti

SCRIPT: Luchino Visconti, Nicola Badalucco, Enrico Medioli

RUNNING TIME: 155 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen. Spoken Languages: English, French

SPECIAL FEATURES: Visconti (10 minute featurette); trailer.

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: June 2, 2004

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2018