Gay Directors/Gay Films: Visconti’s The Damned B+
(La Caduta Degli Dei)
Warner (Italy/West Germany)
The German title of Luchino Visconti’s film, “Gotterdammerung,” after Wagner’s opera, may say it all. “The Damned” is a highly melodramatic tale of decadence and corruption, drawing parallels between the decline and demise of a rich family of industrialists and the rise of Hitler and Nazism.
A major international hit, “The Damned” played for a long time on the American arthouse circuit and later on universities’ film societies.
Like Visconti’s “The Leopard,” the movie, which is set in 1933-34, begins with an elaborate dinner that celebrates the retirement of the family’s patriarch, Baron Joachim von Essenbeck, the head of a huge steel empire. The older man has appointed Friedrich Bruckmann (Dirk Bogarde), an outsider, as the enterprise’s temporary chair.
The gathering takes a turn to the strange and deviant, when Joachim’s grandson, Martin (Helmut Berger, at his most deviously handsome) dresses in drag and delivers one of Marlene Dietrich’s signature songs, “Falling in Love Again.”
The epitome of decadence, Martin is a sadistic bisexual, a drug addict, a pedophile, and also a rapist. One of the film’s most sensationalistic scene depicts the incestuous relationship between Martin and his mother Sophie (Ingrid Thulin), who’s Friedrich’s mistress.
The other describes an orgy among the SA, who are then brutally killed by Hitler’s SS troops.
In the background, the Weimar Republic and German democracy come to an abrupt end with the burning of the Reichstag.
Sumptuously mounted, “The Damned” is directed as a grand spectacle, defined by lavish sets and costumes, which call all the more attention to the excessively devious nature of the tale.
Oscar Nominations: 1
Story and Screenplay (Adapted): Nicola Badalucco, Enrico Medioli, Luchino Visconti
Oscar Awards: None
The Adapted Screenplay Oscar went to William Goldman for the Western, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
Running Time: 155 Minutes
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