There are quite a few small stories going on during the torturous 150 minute run time of The Damned, the main overarching one, however, is relatively simple. A German upper class family must decide who will take over as head of their steel work company as the family’s patriarch is ageing and is on his way out. This leads to drama and betrayal, all while outside their stately manor, the Nazi party is taking over the country.
The initial story of a family business needing to be taken over is a fairly standard one. It’s a pretty cliched set up to a murder mystery that you’ll often find in Agatha Christie novels and other stories of that ilk. What makes The Damned intriguing on paper is the idea of it being set during Hitler’s rise to power; a very tumultuous time for Germany and Europe in general. This is a period that’s not covered as often as the subsequent war that followed but it has been shown in films nevertheless.
Cabaret is a musical which came out not too long after The Damned. Set in the same time period but instead of being a family drama, it’s a musical. Sadly however, both of these films fail for the exact same reason: their characters are boring and the story just isn’t really there. The Essenbach family is filled with one note and one dimensional characters none of whom are given enough time for the audience to attach to them, despite the film being just over 2 and a half hours long.
What would help the characters be likeable is if they were played by compelling actors. The acting across the board in The Damned is pretty abysmal. There’s tonnes of hammy overacting and wooden line delivery. To be fair though. this isn’t too uncommon for films of this era where the evolution of acting from theatrical to cinematic was only just beginning.
The aforementioned runtime leads into The Damned’s horrendous pacing issue. There are several scenes that go on for way too long which are just extended shots of people dancing and singing. Yes, it’s a good way of demonstrating the characters’ decadence but you get that after about 30 seconds, 15 minutes isn’t needed.
What you’ll learn about media regarding the rise of the Nazis, if you watch a lot of it, is that the majority of the best examples are allegorical instead of historical. The Plot Against America is a fantastic mini-series that explores a fictional world where a Nazi Sympathiser became president of the USA instead of Roosevelt. Even a lot of Star Wars demonstrates the rise of the Empire in a more interesting way than The Damned or Cabaret shows the Nazis’ ascension.
The Damned is an old film that it’s quite likely you won’t know much about, and for good reason. It’s slow, dull and pretty poorly crafted all round. Don’t let the interesting setting lure you in, there are much more compelling and captivating examples of the rise of political extremism for you to enjoy. Many of which are a lot shorter.
The Damned: Criterion Collection will be available to buy from October 25th