THE DAMNED is set in 1945, mere days before the Battle of Berlin led to the downfall of Nazi Germany. In Oslo, Norway, a group of Nazis and such sympathizers gather with the idea of loading into a submarine and fleeing the crumbling continent for South America.
The team: General Von Hauser (Kurt Kronefeld), SS soldier Forster (Jodest, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s THE WAGES OF FEAR), French propagandist Couturier (Paul Bernard, Robert Bresson’s LES DAMES DU BOIS DE BOULOGNE), an Italian named Garosi (Fosco Giachetti, 1942’s BENGASI) and his wife Hilda (Florence Marly, 1951’s TOKYO FILE 212), and scholar Erickson (Lucien Hector) and his daughter Ingrid (Anne Campion). Early on, the group makes room for one more when they kidnap a doctor (Henri Vidal, René Clair’s GATES OF PARIS) after an enemy attack leaves Hilda badly hurt.
As tensions mount in the cramped sub (as to whether who is loyal or not; Garosi dealing with his wife’s unfaithfulness), the passengers try to keep an eye on the end point, where they expect the proper contacts to aid them. But that would be awfully easy and convenient for this sort of group, and when things don’t go as planned, it seems that not a single one of the passengers will fully escape their fate. At the same time, we start to wonder what their fate would actually be and whether the clock on their trip or the war will run out first.
THE DAMNED (LES MAUDITS) is set almost entirely in the submarine, making it one of the most claustrophobic works of its time—especially since it’s hard to get comfortable familiarizing with Nazis/supporters for 105 minutes. (Alfred Hitchcock’s LIFEBOAT, released three years earlier, was set solely on the titular raft, but also had open waters and air all around that allowed those characters to at least feel less cramped in their situation.) Much of this feeling comes courtesy of the cinematography by Henri Alekan—a master of his craft who had previously lensed Jean Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and would later win an Oscar for his work on ROMAN HOLIDAY—who uses tight shots and noir-esque shadows to highlight the limited space.
The film is directed by René Clément, who would later helm 1949’s THE WALLS OF MALAPAGE, 1952’s FORBIDDEN GAMES and an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, PURPLE NOON (1960), with Alain Delon in the lead role. (The first two won Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.) THE DAMNED competed at the 1947 Cannes Film Festival, where it won Best Adventure and Crime Film, even though it’s not really either one. THE DAMNED is more thriller than anything else, and tense and involving from the opening scene.
Video: 1.33:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. While THE DAMNED certainly looks very good for a film that’s nearly 70 years old, there are a number of problems in this transfer. And while the issues (flickering, scratches, unstable contrast) likely come from the source used, they’re still a distraction.
Audio: French 2.0 LPCM. Subtitles in English. Most of the sound effects (gunshots, explosions) are effective and the dialogue is clean.
Feature-length audio commentary with Judith Mayne and John E. Davidson: In between bouts of silence, the pair touches on the film’s style, director René Clément and the cast.
RENE CLEMENT OR THE CINEMA OF SKETCHES (54:06): This in-depth 2010 documentary analyzes the French director’s works and place in cinema history.
Theatrical Re-Release Trailer