[box cover]

The Damned

Though they may have made numerous great movies in their own countries, when foreign filmmakers work in English there can be a great disconnect with dialogue — with Luchino Visconti's The Damned (1969), one wonders if it would play better in Italian with English subtitles. Set in Germany as Hitler was coming into power, the film follows Dirk Bogarde's Fredrick Bruckmann as he worms his way up the corporate ladder in the Essenbeck steel company. The patriarch of the family nears death and someone will have to take the mantle shortly, so Fredrick uses his Nazi friends to help him by removing both the senior Von Essenbeck and possible obstacle/family member Herbert Thallman (Umberto Orsini) in one fell swoop when Hebert is framed for killing the old man. This puts next-in-command Konstantin Von Essenbeck (Reinhard Kolldehoff) in line for the job, but Fredrick uses his relationship with Sophie Von Essenbeck (Ingrid Thulin) to get her son — and major stockholder — Martin (Helmut Berger) to put Fredrick in charge. However, Martin feels tortured by the lack of respect he gets from his family and acts out inappropriately because of it; something set up immediately as Martin's character is introduced doing a Marlene Dietrich impression in drag. Though he follows his mother's wishes, Martin begins a downward spiral that he only pulls out of by joining with the Nazi's. The Damned concerns a Machiavellian power struggle between Konstantin, Fredrick, and Martin through which director Visconti paints a portrait of perversity where this family cannibalizes itself and implodes while their country moves towards National Socialism. As a soap opera, it's involving — each twist and turn involves murder and sex. But the film never gets the right tone, leaving it short of Visconti's best works like The Leopard and Rocco and His Brothers. The biggest problem is how tone-deaf it sounds: Though some cast speak English fluently, others are obviously speaking a second language, while still others are simply dubbed. This cinematic babel creates a weird schism of voices, and none sound natural. Moreover, Visconti's film is an exploration of depravity — but delving into the degeneracy of the Nazis is like discovering the piety of Jesus Christ; it's so dramatically evident that perhaps volume is the only way to make it shocking, which may explain why the film broaches so many taboos (including — but not limited to — homosexuality, pedophilia, and incest). Warner presents The Damned in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and DD 1.0. Like their release of Death in Venice, some of the undubbed German dialogue is translated in the optional English subtitles. Extras include "Visconti" (9 min.), which showers the director in praise while also presenting some behind-the scenes footage, and the theatrical trailer. Snap-case.
—DSH



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