In 1930s Germany, the aristocratic Von Essenbeck clan struggles amidst the Nazi regime to retain control over an industrial empire, while the family members react with varying degrees of compliance.
This lengthy, ponderous drama lacks the slam-bam action that one might expect from a Nazi-themed film -- in fact, there is really only one violent scene. Nor is hatred toward Jews a strong motif. No, this tale is more about corruption and betrayal within the ruling Germans themselves, both between the Von Essenbecks and the Nazis and between the rival SS and SA factions of the national army. Along the way, the script's treats include occasional pedophilia, incest, suicide, transvestitism, homosexuality and a mild orgy (hence the film's initial X rating), as well as one of cinema's most unromantic wedding scenes ever. However, be prepared to weather plenty of dour, sluggish dialogue.
The filmmaking is masterful beyond a somewhat florid score which seems unsubtle at times, but there is one important problem: The cast includes three or four male actors with similar feminine, blue-eyed, high-cheekboned features, and it requires extra work to avoid being confused by these characters' interwoven plots. Watch closely.
Note to xenophobics: You might be surprised to learn "The Damned" is almost entirely in English.