Epic in length and complex in purpose, Luchino Visconti's film is not an easy watch. 3.5 Stars

Luchino Visconti’s allegorical fever dream The Damned is a mad deep dive into the depths of human souls, sometimes messily structured and occasionally unsatisfying dramatically, but just try to look away.

La caduta degli dei (Götterdämmerung) (1969)
Released: 18 Dec 1969
Rated: X
Runtime: 156 min
Director: Luchino Visconti
Genre: Drama, War
Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Ingrid Thulin, Helmut Griem
Writer(s): Nicola Badalucco, Enrico Medioli, Luchino Visconti
Plot: The dramatic collapse of a wealthy, industrialist/Junker family during the reign of the Third Reich.
IMDB rating: 7.5
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Criterion
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English PCM 1.0 (Mono), Other
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: R
Run Time: 2 Hr. 57 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: clear keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 09/28/2021
MSRP: $39.95

The Production: 3.5/5

Luchino Visconti’s allegorical fever dream The Damned plots a historical melodrama in true epic style. In fashioning a narrative set in the time of the National Socialist takeover of Germany, he’s invented an upper class German family and split it up so as to better understand how the Nazis were able to insidiously maneuver their way through the echelons of family dynamics in order to gain control of the whole of the country using every man’s (and woman’s) greed for money and power and human lust to pave the way for complete authoritarian rule. It’s a mad deep dive into the depths of human souls, sometimes messily structured and occasionally unsatisfying dramatically, but despite its length and lapses, it’s impossible to look away once one has begun the journey.

Noted for Germany’s largest and most important steel mill, the Von Essenbeck dynasty now finds itself trying to balance the old German regime with the rising influence of the National Socialist Party. Aschenbach (Helmut Griem), a cousin to the family and an important leader in the Nazi S.S., has his own scheme for the party to eventually gain complete control of the steelworks through murdering head of the family Baron Joachim Von Essenbeck (Albrecht Schönhals), installing Friedrich Bruckmann (Dirk Bogarde) as the new head of the company once he marries Baroness Sophie Von Essenbeck (Ingrid Thulin), using her son Martin (Helmut Berger) who controls the majority of the shares in the company as a threat against Bruckman to keep him in line, and dispensing with other troublesome family members as the need arises. But Martin, despite a host of depraved vices, has his own plans for taking over control of the company.

The Oscar-nominated screenplay by Nicola Badalucco, Enrico Medioli, and director Luchino Visconti seems to have taken, along with Oedipus, Shakespeare’s Macbeth as the major source of inspiration for his power hungry central couple (played by Bogarde and Thulin) who kill the king (in this case, Baron Joachim) and also wipe out other heirs (Baron Konstantin Von Essenbeck played by René Koldehoff, a Nazi S.A. head honcho, and also pacifist son-in-law Herbert Thallman played by Umberto Orsini by blaming Joachim’s murder on him) in order to move to the head of the table. In each case throughout the film, the witch-like Aschenbach plants the seeds for the actions of the depraved clan, worming his way into their minds and poisoning them with dreams of riches and power. Director Visconti indulges himself throughout the movie lugubriously noting intricately the preparations for the opening birthday party (complete with a series of entertainments by various family members including Helmut Berger’s infamous introduction to the film outfitted in glorious Marlene Dietrich drag which she later said outdid her own work in The Blue Angel). He can’t just shoot Konstantin in the head to get rid of his influence on the family; he instead stages a twenty-five minute “Night of the Long Knives” in which a large cadre of Nazi S.A. revelers at Bad Wiessee (complete with nudity, drunken misbehavior, Nazi party songs, and suggested homosexual pairings) are exterminated by the competing Hitler S.S. force in grisly fashion. And Martin’s depravity which involves pedophilia, incestuous rape, and drug addiction, also gets more than a fair share of camera time. Visconti’s use of one splintered family to symbolize how almost the entirety of Germany was seduced into National Socialism is daring and evocative, but the excesses and lumbering pace (the climactic wedding of the zombie-fied Baroness Sophie and Friedrich Bruckmann is horrifically extended even though it does offer a shocking payoff) do the movie no favors.

Though billed fourth and “introduced” in the credits (though this was actually his fourth film), Helmut Berger gets the lion’s share of the attention; how could he not with so many vices that the director wants to catalog in such a detailed way (it’s no secret now that Berger was the director’s lover during this period of his career). His performance does show his inexperience, and the role is one of the most distasteful in modern cinema, but you certainly won’t leave a screening not remembering Berger or his character. Dirk Bogarde and Ingrid Thulin both sink their teeth into their avaricious roles with great glee, relishing every moment of victory and resenting mightily when things go wrong. Thulin, of course, gets the added horror of playing a mother raped by her son and going mad which isn’t scripted as well as it could have been but is played thoughtfully. Helmut Griem as the smiling cobra Aschenbach uses his good looks and charming manner to disguise the black core where a heart might have at one time existed. Renaud Verley as talented student and musician Günther Von Essenbeck is one of the real tragedies of the story whose life is ruined by the machinations of others rather than himself. René Koldehoff is very good as the blowhard Baron Konstantin who thinks he’s untouchable and learns a very bitter lesson. Charlotte Rampling as the wife of the pacifist Herbert is playing older than her years and is very touching even with limited screen time.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s 1.85:1 original theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully presented in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. While the image is certainly an improvement on the original DVD release, there are still some problems with black levels (sometimes milky rather than deep) and shadow detail (details lost in the murky grays). At its best, the imagery is quite sharp and detailed with excellent and very well saturated color, but there are some occasional soft shots, too, that may or may not have been a part of the original cinematography. The English subtitles when German is being spoken or if one chooses the Italian language track are in white and are very easy to read. The movie has been divided into 21 chapters.

Audio: 4.5/5

The disc offers the film in both English/German (the default) or Italian, both in uncompressed LPCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps). While the dialogue is clearly recorded, the sound mix is definitely lacking in bass giving the entire epic movie a bit of a tinny quality, certainly not what the director would have wanted. Maurice Jarre’s background score and the sound effects are mixed professionally, and the soundtrack is not burdened by age-related problems with hiss, pops, crackle, or flutter.

Special Features: 4/5

Cinema 70 (39:43, HD): a 1970 Italian panel discussion of the film with director Luchino Visconti mainly doing a Q&A with an audience of passionate moviegoers who pose very difficult questions to the maestro.

Visconti: Man of Two Worlds (9:20, HD): a behind-the-scenes documentary by filmmaker John Abbott shot during the making of The Damned with brief comments from the director and stars Dirk Bogarde, Charlotte Rampling, and Ingrid Thulin.

Video Essay (15:35, HD) film historian Stefano Albertini offers a video analysis of the movie.

Cast Interviews: Ingrid Thulin (10:23, HD) interviewed in 1969 after filming her role, Charlotte Rampling (3:38, SD) excerpted in 1990 from a longer interview about her career, and Helmut Berger (5:29, SD) interviewed in 1969 as he was shooting Dorian Gray.

Theatrical Trailer (2:57, SD)

Enclosed Pamphlet: contains a cast and crew list, information about the video and audio transfers, and an essay on the film proper and its homosexual subtext by film scholar and professor D. A. Miller.

Overall: 3.5/5

Definitely not for all tastes but a film rich in symbolic political and Machiavellian overtones, Luchino Visconti’s The Damned finally comes to Blu-ray looking the best it ever has and with a plethora of bonus material to extend and deepen the thought processes necessary for truly getting the most out of this very complex and difficult movie.

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Angelo Colombus

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A big fan of Visconti and have most of his films including this one but after seeing my Warner dvd a few times i still don't like the film. I find it a over the top soap opera.
 

david hare

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Gestapo camp.

The new encode has once again been screwed up totally by Ritrovata with no whites left in the universe, only yellow and green in this LUT Presentation of altered film stock reality.

The inherent and frankly outrageous probelms with literally every single color grading job now performed (botched is a better work) by the Ritrovato crew is so grotesquely bad, you can pick their transfers blind from an anonyomous lineup. The usual “enodrsement” of the DP suggests, as usual he is now so old he can’t see or remember what and how he photographed using bog standrad Eastman stock in 1969. Or he simply looked at the raw scan and gave it a nod. What happened later is a crime.

I wish Criterion would just tell RItrovato these abortions are not good enough. Death in Venice is even worse, in the sense that it’s mostly shot with daylight in low contrast settings so there everything has that yellow piss stain to iT. The Damned dodges those bullets only when it’s presenting deep shadaow and color but even then the blacks are so watered down it’s ridiculous.
 

lark144

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That's what I love about it! :lol:
In "The Damned, it's impossible to separate the soap from the camp from decadence from serious political analysis. It's all intertwined; as if someone decided to fuse Brecht's "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui" with "As the World Turns" and Russ Meyer's "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill". This is not intended as a criticism.
 

Will Krupp

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In "The Damned, it's impossible to separate the soap from the camp from decadence from serious political analysis. It's all intertwined; as if someone decided to fuse Brecht's "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui" with "As the World Turns" and Russ Meyer's "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill". This is not intended as a criticism.

See, I was RAISED on AS THE WORLD TURNS! Now it all makes sense!!
 

lark144

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See, I was RAISED on AS THE WORLD TURNS! Now it all makes sense!!
I can do one better. I remember the first color broadcast of "As the World Turns". I think it was '57 or '58. My dad was a TV repairman, and there was a special event at the RCA dealers on West Genesee Street. My dad brought me, and I still remember everything was red and purple; come to think of it, not that different from the color scheme of "The Damned". Hey, maybe Visconti was hooked on "As the World Turns" as well! Now it all makes sense.
 

Robin9

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Is there a good disc of The Damned anywhere, even in standard definition?
 

Matt Hough

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Is there a good disc of The Damned anywhere, even in standard definition?
THIS is a good disc. It may not top the greatness charts in terms of its transfer, but I don't find it nearly as objectionable as others. I saw the film in a theater, but I have no memory of how it looked since I was so bowled over by what was before me. All that stuff seems tame now, but it wasn't for me in 1970.
 

Will Krupp

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THIS is a good disc. It may not top the greatness charts in terms of its transfer, but I don't find it nearly as objectionable as others.

Oops, I'm sorry. I was only ribbing Ritrovata's reputation of "Yellow/Green-ing" the transfers in their charge. I didn't mean to imply I have (as yet) seen the disc or that I'm not looking forward to it. I thought the DVD looked fiine when it came out so I have no doubt I'll love having it in HD!
 

lark144

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The Damned was more than purple, at least before Ritrovato got to it. I remember the first release prints in 1970 (censor cut in OZ) which were absolutely gorgeous, Deep glossy and saturated.
Yes, I saw it in NYC opening day, first run at the Festival Cinema, where "Satyricon" also played; the X-rated version. It was stunning to look at. Deep blacks and rich reds and oranges, so vivid it was nearly 3D. The vividness of the color palette made it seem even more profound and consistent. I saw an R rated, somewhat faded print at the Carnegie Hall Cinema in the early 80's and it was quite a disappointment. It seemed tepid and wildly inconsistent. Those rich colors--as well as the more explicit material-- were really needed to bring it to another level.

btw, I found the colors on the Warner DVD underwhelming. I guess I might feel the same way about the Criterion, but I'm planning on getting it anyway.
 

david hare

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I have to take oppposing views to Matt. The restoration would have been fine if Ritirovata had simply done its job. They didn’t as usual, and the usual submersion beneath the yellow Look Up Table grading filter is as usual completely disastrous and inexcusable. What you get in a few flashes of this transfer is a glimpse of what it should have been throughout. i keep banging on these disasters because they cost money and once done, it aint going to be done again for a long tine, if ever. Warner/MPI could have turned this over without blinking and produced a stunning restoration but national pride and the usual boys club/cinemafia ensures the job stays in Italy because the elements are there. Pure, unadorned ego.
 

mackjay

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Not Viscont's greatest, by any means, but essential viewing if you appreciate his style. I saw a recent restoration on the big screen a few years ago. My third or fourth viewing of the film. It's a lurid, over-the-top, mainly house-bound (or set-bound?) spectacle. As others say, it's certainly watchable, with a good cast. Helmut Berger is incredibly good, and only surpassed himself a few years later in LUDWIG.
 

Angelo Colombus

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Not Viscont's greatest, by any means, but essential viewing if you appreciate his style. I saw a recent restoration on the big screen a few years ago. My third or fourth viewing of the film. It's a lurid, over-the-top, mainly house-bound (or set-bound?) spectacle. As others say, it's certainly watchable, with a good cast. Helmut Berger is incredibly good, and only surpassed himself a few years later in LUDWIG.
I liked Ludwig and have the Blu-ray box set. At 238 minutes i watched it over two nights and there are some nice extras on it.
 

tenia

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btw, I found the colors on the Warner DVD underwhelming. I guess I might feel the same way about the Criterion, but I'm planning on getting it anyway.
That's the issue with Svet's review but also with many of the excuses made to defend Ritrovata's (and also Eclair's) gradings : the older DVD-era colors weren't faithful, we know that now, but what's happening now is seemingly another occurence of the same issue though in another shape, with other colors, other type of color signatures.

I have no idea how each of these movies are supposed to look, but heavy specific laboratory color signatures aside, there is no explanation sustaining the weight of having to link together hundreds of movies, covering dozens of countries and multiple decades. None.

Why these keep being allowed while we now have so many exemples that can't be linked any other way than through who graded the restorations is beyond me, and hopefully, those who are trying to defend those as normal and faithful (and even trying to shame the nay-sayers) will at some point have to respond to why they let such an issue happen a SECOND TIME.

We should know better, as an industry, and I wonder what official organisations are waiting for to raise the red flag, or at least make sure this stops (rhetorical question : it's hard to investigate people you gave awards to).
 

lark144

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That's the issue with Svet's review but also with many of the excuses made to defend Ritrovata's (and also Eclair's) gradings : the older DVD-era colors weren't faithful, we know that now, but what's happening now is seemingly another occurence of the same issue though in another shape, with other colors, other type of color signatures.

I have no idea how each of these movies are supposed to look, but heavy specific laboratory color signatures aside, there is no explanation sustaining the weight of having to link together hundreds of movies, covering dozens of countries and multiple decades. None.

Why these keep being allowed while we now have so many exemples that can't be linked any other way than through who graded the restorations is beyond me, and hopefully, those who are trying to defend those as normal and faithful (and even trying to shame the nay-sayers) will at some point have to respond to why they let such an issue happen a SECOND TIME.

We should know better, as an industry, and I wonder what official organisations are waiting for to raise the red flag, or at least make sure this stops (rhetorical question : it's hard to investigate people you gave awards to).
I saw Visconti's "The Damned" a number of times when it first came out, in the X-rated version, at the Festival theater in New York. The main colors were deep red and rich black, and, as I've stated above, it was really glorious to watch. I've never seen anything quite like it, a film in which the color so dazzled the eye, was so rich in intensity, and sensual in its textures, it was hard to realize this was supposed to be a cautionary tale. I didn't really get the plot until the third time I saw the film, so hallucinatory and compelling were the images. It was a lot closer in its visual style to "Fellini Satyricon" or the "trip" scene in "2001" than "The Night Porter".

I recall reading in an interview with either Visconti or DP De Santis that the prominent use of red and black was intended to echo the Nazi flag. I recall this color design became more prominent as the film progressed. The look of the film became more two dimensional, and the depth of field receded until the actors were swamped and ultimately swallowed by all that red and black.

Warner's ancient DVD, had nothing to do, color-wise, with what I remember seeing. In fact, I found it so inferior--faded and grainy and yellowish--that I tossed it almost immediately. Still, it is closer to the original color design of the film than what I got from the images I've seen on the internet, which appear a lot more like the Wizard of Oz's Emerald City lair, with its washes of green and pale yellow, than what I recall of "The Damned". In a word, it looks dreadful--possibly the worst act of desecration that has come from L'immagine Ritrovata thus far, and believe me, I've looked at a lot of crappy examples. Of course, I don't really trust screen grabs, but I don't know whether I want to go through the sad experience of shelling out money simply in order to toss it again.
 

david hare

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Mark I had exactly the same experience of the film on first release. Four viewings for me on first release. Last one wtih a woman with whom I was about to (foolishly) live with. It knocked us out as it did everyone I knew who saw it. This was - remember - the era when Euro Eastman prints were better than anything you could see. Remember 60s Chabrols (which are now hideous to view in their new “restorations“ and Belle de Jour which knocked me sideways as the second best color film I had ever seen. The Damned was one of these. The Warner DVD was - yes- pretty shit but it was a scratchy dim replica. This current bowl of shit is unbelievably bad.