It is Germany, 1933, and the spectacle you are about to see concerns the destruction of the powerful Essenbeck family by insidious corruption from within and political intrigue and violence from without.
The Reichstag is burning – flames lick the screen throughout the whole film – and Baron von Essenbeck, head of a vast steelworks corporation, is murdered on his birthday by the ambitious Friederich Bruckmann (Dirk Bogarde), who is also the lover of the old man’s widowed daughter-in-law, Sophie (Ingrid Thulin).
Sophie’s son, Martin (Helmut Berger) is a decadent pervert who dresses up as Marlene Dietrich and rapes little girls. Gradually – goaded by a stormtrooper cousin called Aschenbach (Helmut Griem) – Martin sets out to destroy his mother and her consort and to turn the steelworks over to the Nazis.
The actors – particularly Helmut Berger and Ingrid Thulin – are nearly all good, though perhaps a little overwhelmed by the weight of their material.
The hysterical German intriguer Bruckmann is not the right part for Bogarde, an actor who excels at the cool, the sardonic and the understated. His impeccable English also sounds a little odd in the confusion of accents coming from the rest of the cast.
The film lasts for two and a half hours and is packed with dramatic scenes. It’s a very Teutonic drama, though, brimming with tragedy, horror, cruelty and political comment, and lacking in insight and humour.
The original title of this Italian/German production was La Caduta Degli Dei.
Baroness Sophie Von Essenbeck
Martin Von Essenbeck
Günther Von Essenbeck
Baron Konstantin Von Essenbeck
Baron Joachim Von Essenbeck
Chief of Police