In 1957, Lucia recognises Max, the night porter in a Vienna hotel, as the Nazi officer who became her lover and protector when she was in a concentration camp. She is drawn back into a semi-sadomasochist relationship.
While the kinkier scenes of this once-controversial Liliana Cavani sado-romance, most of which involve broken glass and/or Nazi uniform, exert an undeniable prurient fascination, The Night Porter suffers from a storyline as rambling and illogical as the behaviour of its peculiar characters. The heat between the stars comes in glum scenes of sex and humiliation, but the actualline story turns on a sensitive Nazi’s attempts to protect his aristocratic Jewish mistress, first from the regular murderers in the death camp and then from a shadowy undercover organisation of war criminals who see her as a dangerous witness who needs to be eliminated.
It has an interesting, sombre look, while Bogarde and Rampling work hard to make the psychology seem a lot less silly than it is, and a compelling erotic/horrific/tasteless scene retelling the story of Salome in fascist terms, but the movie is too protracted and pompous to get away with its extremely dubious Last Tango in Paris-style sexual politics. Like Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (also with Italy’s favourite British Nazi, Bogarde) and Tinto Brass’s Salon Kitty – not to mention video favourites SS Experiment Camp, Deported Women of the SS Special Section and Red Nights of the Gestapo – this represents a peculiar 1960s-70s blip of Italian films which are both repulsed by and enamoured with the iconography and the atrocities of Italy’s wartime Axis ally.
Rampling, the only actress ever cast as a concentration camp victim who didn’t have to diet for the role, posed for a memorable poster, coyly topless in elbow-length gloves and an SS officer’s hat.
Not rich in plausability of plot or character development, but tonally interesting in places.