The Damned (1969)



Director:  Luchino Vesconti.

Starring:  Dirk Bogarde (Frederick Bruckmann),  Ingrid Thulin (Sophie Von Essenbeck),  Helmut Griem (Aschenbach),  Helmut Berger (Martin Von Essenbeck),  Renaud Verley (Gunther Von Essenbeck),  Umberto Orsini (Herbert Thallman),  Reinhard Kolldehoff (Konstantin Von Essenbeck),  Albrecht Schoenhals (Joachim Von Essenbeck),  Charlotte Rampling (Elizabeth Florinda Bolkan (Olga),  Nora Ricci (Governess),  Irina Wanka (Lisa),  Karin Mittendorf (Thilde Thallman),  Valentina Ricci (Erika Thalman),  Wolfgang Hillinger (Janek),  Bill Vanders (Chief of Police),  Howard Nelson Rubien (Dean of the University),  Werner Hasselmann (Gestapo Officer),  Mark Salvage (Police Inspector),  Peter Dane (Steelmill Clerk),  John Frederick (2nd Officer Wehrmacht),  Karl-Otto Alberty (1st Officer Wehrmacht),  Klaus Höhne (1st S.A. Officer),  Peter Brandt (3rd S.A. Officer),  Richard Beach (3rd Officer Wehrmacht),  Ester Carloni (1st Maid),  Ernst Kuhr (2nd S.A. Officer),  Jessica Dublin (Nurse),  Wolfgang Ehrlich (S.A. Militiaman),  Judith Burnett (Helga),  Antonietta Fiorito (2nd Maid),  Piero Morgia (Young man in shirt-sleeves). 

A German family declines as the Nazi party rises.


Spoiler warning:  below is the summary of the entire film.

Good movie.  This family is damned, partly because of greed and partly because of the rise of the evil influence of the Nazis. 

This is the story of the Essenbeck family and its decline.  There are a lot of family members and so let's introduce them first.  Uncle Joachim Von Essenbeck is the head of the very important Essenbeck Steel Works.    He has two nephews: Konstantin Von Essenbeck, who is a member of the SA, the military wing of the Nazi party under Ernst Rohm, and Herbert Thallman, who despises the Nazis.  Konstantin has a son Gunther.  Herbert has a wife Elizabeth Thallman along with two daughters and a son.

Daughter Sophie Von Essenbeck is planning to marry Frederick Bruckmann, who Sophie wants to take over the family firm, rather than Konstantin or Herbert.  Sophie has a son, Martin Von Essenbeck, by a previous marriage to a Von Essenbeck.  Aschenbach is Sophie's cousin and a member of the German SS, the elite troops devoted to Hitler. 

News arrives that the Reichstag building is burning.  The Nazis blame the communists. 

Uncle Joachim does not want to give any money to the Nazi Party.  But, in considering who will co-lead the steel works, he chooses Konstantin because the firm has to be headed by someone who has a good relationship with the Fascists.  This news is shocking and disappointing to both Herbert and Frederick, as well as to Sophie. 

News arrives that the Nazis are planning to arrest Herbert.  He is forced to leave Germany.  (He is later followed by his wife and children.)

February 18, 1933.  Joachim Von Essenbeck is found murdered in his bed.  No immediate suspects are identified.  As the primary stockholder, Sophie's son Martin becomes the head of the firm.

Among the Nazis, the feeling is growing that the SA and its homosexual leader Ernst Röhm must go.  There is also a burning of banned books by the Nazis. 

It turns out that Martin is a pedophile.  He fondles a young Jewish girl, Lisa, who later hangs herself, naming Martin as the reason before she expires.  The police call Konstantin to help cover up the matter. Konstantin then uses this knowledge to blackmail Martin into calling an extraordinary meeting of the board of directors at which Konstantin is made the head of the firm.  He immediately sends a whole shipment of machine guns from the factory to the SA in Stuttgart. 

But Konstantin's control does not last long.  On June 30, 1934, Konstantin is killed in what came to be called the "Night of the Long Knives" where Hitler and his SS descended on the resort of Bad Wiessee (where the SA was holding a meeting which after hours turned into an orgy) and wiped out the leaders of the SA.  Rohm was arrested and murdered later. 

Sophie wants Frederick to have sole ownership of the company.  So she has his last name changed to Von Essenbeck.  (Now we find out that it is Sophie and Frederick who had Joachim killed.)

Aschenbeck decides to use Martin, more malleable to Nazism, to ruin Sophie and Frederick. 

Herbert returns to the family mansion.  He tells them that Elizabeth and the children were captured and sent to Dachau.  Eilabeth has been killed.  So Herbert has decided to turn him himself into the Gestapo to obtain the freedom of his children. 

Aschenbeck uses his wiles to make sure Martin turns against his mother and Frederick.  Martin confronts his mother telling her "You gave Frederick everything of mine. . . . I will destroy you mother."  Still in love with his mother, Martin degrades Sophie by having sex with her.  Martin then becomes a member of the SS.  He then forces Frederick and Sophie to marry, just before he has them swallow cyanide poison. 

Aschenbeck's Fascist victory is complete. 

The decline of the family can be seen as a symbol of the decline of Germany and the final victory of the Nazis over that nation.  Aschenbeck was victorious, but at the same time he ruined the family, just as the Nazis would ruin Germany.  There were some shocking and disturbing scenes, but it was all worth it.  Both my wife and I liked it. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:


1887  --  birth of Ernst Röhm.  He was a native of Munich, Germany.

during WWI (1914-1918)  --  Röhm served as an Oberleutnant with the Bavarian 10th Infantry Regiment.  He was severely wounded in the face in Lorraine, France.

Later he was promoted to Hauptmann. 

1918  -- after WWI, he joined the Freikorps, one of the many private militas created in Munich to combat the Communists.

1920  --  he became a member of the Nazi Party.  He helped organize the Sturmabteilung, the SA.

1923  --  after the failed Munich Beer Hall Putsch, Röhm spent fifteen months in prison.  During this time he became a close personal friend of Adolf Hitler. 

1924  --  Röhm released from prison.  He helped Hitler rebuild the Nazis.

The SA was temporarily outlawed.

1924 (April)  --  Röhm helped create the Frontbann to replaced the SA.  He served in the Reichstag as a Nazi representative.

1925  -- he resigned from the Reichstag.  He traveled to Bolivia to be a military advisor.

1930  --  Hitler personally assumed command of the storm troopers. He personally asked Röhm to return to Germany.

1931  --  Röhm became the chief of staff of the entire Sturmabteilung (the SA).  He staffed the organizational leadership with close friends and personal associates, many of whom were homosexuals, as Röhm was. The homosexuality soon led to scandals and Röhm was outed by the leftist press.

1933  --  the Nazis' gained power in Germany.

Differences arose between Hitler and Röhm.  Röhm led the left wing of the Nazi Party that was somewhat anti-business. This led to an open breach with Hitler.

1934 (February)  --  Röhm proposaed that Germany's armed forces be absorbed into the SA, but the Army wanted no part of Röhm, 

1934 (April 11)  -- Hitler met with representatives of the armed forces and in exchange for Hitler's offer to control the SA and Röhm and guarantee that the army would become Germany's sole bearer-of-arms, the army agreed to back Hitler.  .

One of the last straws was when Röhm callled for a "second revolution" (this time against the conservative power structure). 

1934 (early June)  --  Hitler had a showdown with Röhm.  Shortly after this, the very ill von Hindenburg gave an ultimatum to Hitler that, unless the tension in Germany was ended, he would declare martial law.  Hitler felt he had to act against the head of the SA. 

1934 (June 30)  --  the SA leadership was wiped out at the resort of Bad Wiessee during the "Night of the Long Knives." 

Röhm was held briefly at Stadelheim Prison, Munich. 

1934 (July 2) --  SS-Sturmbannführer Michael Lippert shot Röhm at point-blank range after he refused to commit suicide with a pistol given to him.



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