Friday, January 22, 2010

A Triple Threat of Misery

No, not Stephen King's Misery, or Misery, but three great movies that could be called "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich."

Now, I have no love for Nazis, but they make great film characters. Here is a triple feature I mentioned to Empress Kate, all of which I now possess:
  1. Cabaret (Fosse, 1972)
  2. The Damned (Visconti, 1969)
  3. The Night Porter (Cavini, 1975)
So, what do these films have in common? They are not so much about the Second World War as they are about the people involved. Take a gander.


Bob Fosse's film adaptation of the Broadway musical stars Liza Minnelli and Michael York as American and British expatriates, respectively. They have gone to Germany prior to the Nazis rise to power. This is a time before the Röhm-Putsch, or "Night of Long Knives," and involves the Nazis main competitors, the Sturmabteilung (SA), aka "Brownshirts."

Easily the most melodramatic of the three, Cabaret involves all the fringe groups of the period: performers, homosexuals, Jews, and the Nazis themselves. Sally Bowles (Minnelli) is dying to become a star and find a rich man to bilk. Brian Roberts (York) is an ESL instructor and homosexual. Bowles and Roberts both fall in love with the same man, Baron Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem), a rich playboy. Slowly, the country starts following the Nazis' lead as depicted by "The Master of Ceremonies" (Joel Grey) who transforms from wanting to escape the Great Depression to Anti-Semitism. The movie is enjoyable, and quite chilling at times. It goes on a bit long, but has a lot of ground to cover.

The Damned

Luchino Visconti paints a picture of decadence and depravity in Nazi Germany. This covers much of the same period as Cabaret, and includes Helmut Griem as an SS officer named Aschenbach.

The Damned covers a lot of topics. We have the downfall of the Brownshirts, the burning of the Reichstag, and the growth of anti-Bolshevism. The players here are all plotting for control of the lucrative steel works that have fallen into the hands of the depraved, semi-competent, mother controlled heir Martin (Helmut Berger).

The Night Porter

Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling (both of which play roles in The Damned) star in Liliana Cavini's disturbing film of fugitive SS officers hiding in Vienna after the war. One of them, Maximillian "Max" Aldorfer (Bogarde), comes in contact with a woman to whom he was both torturer and lover.

Max is working as the night porter in a Vienese hotel, when a famous conductor comes to stay. The conductor's wife, Lucia Atherton (Rampling), was Max's special pet when he was a concentration camp officer. They recognize each other immediately and fall into their old relationship when Lucia's husband leaves for the next stop on his tour. Max is associated with other fugitives who are trying to clear their names by eliminating surviving witnesses. Lucia's appearance is trouble for them, and Max's unwillingness to expose her drives the story.

While these films are not a trilogy, they all go nicely together. They vary in tone greatly and tackle one of recent history's great dilemmas in different ways. It would also be hard for me to pick a favorite. They all have their flaws, but are great films in many ways as well. If you held a gun to my head, I would say The Night Porter is best, but if I was to be on a desert island I would go with Cabaret, since it is a musical and has some charming moments. For beauty of cinematography and style The Damned is hard to beat. If you get a chance to see any of these it will be worth your time.

Read Tenebrous Kate's review of The Damned here.


Unknown said...

The Night Porter disturbed me long after I saw it. However I still pine for Charlotte Rampling, even today.

Darius Whiteplume said...

The Night Porter is a troubling film. Bogarde and Rampling are both favorites of mine despite this being my first glimpse of either.

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