In this film director Luchino Visconti forced his sweaty, hysterical visuals into a rigid classical structure. The set-up is pure clockwork: one betrayal leading to another; one devastation opening up an even deeper abyss for another perpetrator.
Basically, Visconti is taking on Macbeth here. Dirk Bogarde plays the Macbeth figure, an up-and-coming industrialist who's sleeping with an evil Grande Dame of Nazi finance, Sophie von Essenbeck (Ingrid Thulin, having an absolute ball), heiress to a munitions conglomerate. (The von Essenbecks are loosely based on the Krupps, but don't take this as any sort of literal historiography.) Thulin eggs on her lover Bogarde to commit a few politic murders and a frame-up or two so that he can take over the family business, with herself as the power behind the throne. But she doesn't count on the pathology of her grown son from a previous marriage, the hideous little monster Martin (Helmut Berger, acting terribly but it sort of fits in an Udo Kier-sort of way). Martin is your stereotypical Nazi: a closet paedophile, a drug addict, a transvestite, a momma's-boy, a you-name-it. The scenes involving his seduction of a 9- or 10-year-old girl who lives in a shabby apartment complex are some of the most disturbing that you'll ever see in cinema
The plot is so Byzantine that it defeats a brief summary. Let it suffice to say that Visconti manages to cram his complicated story neatly within the historical context of the period between the Reichstag Fire and the Night of the Long Knives, thereby maintaining a nutty observance of Classical Unities. All the while, he films the thing in Hammer-horror Pop colour, with intense contrast between shadow and light. The first scene, by the way, is a shot of the blasting furnaces of the munitions factory -- a fitting intro to the horrendous vision of depravity which soon follows. Everyone's sweating in this movie: drops of perspiration trickle down temples, and beads of sweat glisten on upper lips throughout, as if the flames of Hell are licking up at the soles of their collective feet. *The Damned* is a feverish masterpiece. You'll never forget it.
"The Damned" was the first screenwork to deal with Nazism so openly, and as such, it abruptly broke a long-lasting taboo. This film has been a trend-setter in many ways, and opened the path to a series of others that hinted to Nazism as darkly erotic and fascinating, a trend that some called "Nazi sexploitation of the seventies". True, the influence of "the Damned" can be traced in many vile under-products, but also in leading works such as "Cabaret" or "The Night Porter". A reaction to that trend came with the ensuing wave of Holocaust movies, which made a point in reminding that Nazism was above all sheerly destructive.
See the trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFRZZ2k2iGk