The Damned — Classic Film Pick
The first of Luchino Visconti's "German Trilogy" of films that included "Death in Venice" and "Ludwig" is set in high society Germany during the early '30s. The Essenbecks — an industrialist family modeled after the Krupp family's steel production company — are brought down and taken over by the Nazis after the infamous Reichstag fire. The Essenbecks's anti-Nazi patriarch Baron Joachim (Albrecht Schoenhals) is murdered by the SS. His company's like-minded vice president Herbert Thallmann (Umberto Orsini) is indicted for the crime before escaping the from Gestapo that soon incarcerates his wife (Charlotte Rampling) and children at the Dachau concentration camp.
Visconti stylishly captures the frenzied debauchery and violence that the Nazis employed throughout the era, including the Night of the Long Knives wherein Hitler's execution squads massacred his political enemies — the paramilitary Brownshirts known as the SA.
Written by Visonti, with Enrico Medioli and Nicola Badalucco, "The Damned" (1969) is an incendiary precursor to Nazi-era films like Liliana Cavani's "The Night Porter" (1974), Tinto Brass's "Salon Kitty" (1976), and even the musical play and film "Cabaret." By boldly confronting the psycho-sexual depravity of the Nazi mindset all the way through to is inevitable incestuous nature, Visconti creates a specific cinematic vernacular for viewing and discussing Hitler's manic ideology. That Visconti's iconic vision became a cinematic touchstone for other influential filmmakers is a testament to the Italian director's lasting power as a storyteller and as an important conduit of historical information.