The Night Porter

The Night Porter (Italian: Il portiere di notte) is a 1974 Italian erotic psychological drama film.[1] Directed and co-written by Liliana Cavani, the film stars Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling, and features Philippe Leroy and Gabriele Ferzetti. Its themes of sexual and sadomasochistic obsession have made the film controversial since its initial release, with critics being divided over the film's artistic value.

The Night Porter
Italian film poster
Directed byLiliana Cavani
Produced byRobert Gordon Edwards
Esa De Simone
Screenplay byLiliana Cavani
Italo Moscati
Barbara Alberti
Amedeo Pagani
Story byLiliana Cavani
Barbara Alberti
Amedeo Pagani
StarringDirk Bogarde
Charlotte Rampling
Music byDaniele Paris
CinematographyAlfio Contini
Edited byFranco Arcalli
Joseph E. Levine Productions
Ital-Noleggio Cinematografico
Lotar Film Productions
Distributed byItal-Noleggio Cinematografico (Italy)
AVCO Embassy Pictures (US)
Release date
3 April 1974 (France)
11 April 1974 (Italy)
Running time
118 minutes
United States

The Night Porter is widely considered to be a Nazisploitation film[2][3][4] and a cult classic.[2][5][6] In July 2018, it was selected to be screened in the Venice Classics section at the 75th Venice International Film Festival.[7]


The film is set in 1957. During World War II, Maximilian Theo Aldorfer, a former Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) officer who had posed as a doctor to take sensational photographs in concentration camps, and Lucia Atherton, a Holocaust survivor, had an ambiguous sadomasochistic relationship. Flashbacks show Max tormenting Lucia, but also acting as her protector.

Lucia, now married to an American orchestra conductor, meets Max again by chance. He is now a night porter at a hotel in Vienna, and a reluctant member of a group of former SS comrades who have been carefully covering up their pasts by destroying documents and eliminating witnesses to their wartime activities. Max has an upcoming mock trial at the hands of the group for his war crimes. The group's leader, Hans Folger, accuses Max of wanting to live 'hidden away like a church mouse'. Max wishes to remain hidden, but he voices support for the group's activities. Memories of the past punctuate Max and Lucia's present with urgent frequency, suggesting that Lucia survived through her relationship with Max – in one such scene, Lucia sings a Marlene Dietrich song, "Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte" ("If I could make a wish"), to the camp guards while wearing pieces of an SS uniform, and Max 'rewards' her with the severed head of a male inmate who had been bullying her, a reference to Salome.

Because she could testify against him, Lucia's existence is a threat to Max. He goes to see a former Nazi collaborator, Mario, who knows Lucia is still alive; Max murders him to protect his secret. After Lucia's husband leaves town on business, Max and Lucia renew their past lovemaking in Max's apartment. Max confesses to Countess Stein, another guest at his hotel, that he has found his "little girl" again. The Countess tells him that he is insane; Max replies that they are both 'in the same boat'. Meanwhile, Folger has Max spied on by a youth who works at the hotel.

Max is interviewed by the police about Mario's murder. He spends days with Lucia in his apartment, chaining her to the wall so that "they can't take her away" and sleeps little. Folger, who wants Lucia to testify against Max in the mock trial—though he harbors more ambiguous long-term intentions toward her—visits and informs her that Max is ill. He suggests that Lucia must also be ill to allow herself to be in this position, but Lucia sends him away, claiming to be with Max of her own free will.

The SS officers are infuriated at Max for hiding a key witness. Max refuses to go through with the trial, calling it 'a farce', and admits that he works as a night porter due to his sense of shame in daytime. He returns to Lucia, telling her that the police questioned him and others at the hotel about her disappearance, and that no suspicion fell on him. Eventually, Max quits his job, devoting all of his time to Lucia. The SS officers cut off the couple's supply of food from a nearby grocery store. Max barricades the door to the apartment, and he and Lucia begin rationing. Max seeks help by phoning one of his old hotel friends, who refuses, and imploring his neighbor, but she is prevented from providing aid by Adolph, the youth who had spied on Max earlier. Max retreats again to the apartment, where Lucia is almost unconscious from malnutrition. After one of the SS cuts off the electricity in Max's apartment, Max and Lucia, respectively dressed in his Nazi uniform and a negligee resembling the one she had worn in the concentration camp, leave the building and drive away; they are soon followed by a car driven by Max's former colleagues. Max parks his car on a bridge, where he and Lucia walk along the sidewalk as dawn breaks. Two gunshots ring out, and the doomed lovers fall dead.



The film depicts the political continuity between wartime Nazism and post-war Europe and the psychological continuity of characters locked into compulsive repetition of the past. On another level it deals with the psychological condition known as Stockholm syndrome. The film also raises the issue of sleeper Nazi cells and their control.


In responses to The Night Porter, Cavani was both celebrated for her courage in dealing with the theme of sexual transgression and, simultaneously, castigated for the controversial manner in which she presented that transgression: within the context of a Nazi Holocaust narrative. The film has been accused of mere sensationalism. Critic Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times thought the main roles were well-performed, but nonetheless gave the film 1 star out of a possible 4, and called The Night Porter "as nasty as it is lubricious, a despicable attempt to titillate us by exploiting memories of persecution and suffering",[4] while adding he did not "object per se to the movie's subject matter." Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide in 2005 called it "sleazy" and "bizarre".[8] In The New York Times, Nora Sayre praised the performances of Bogarde and Rampling, and the "dark, rich tones" of the cinematography, but began her review by writing "If you don't love pain, you won't find "The Night Porter" erotic—and by now, even painbuffs may be satiated with Nazi decadence."[9] Vincent Canby, another prominent critic for The New York Times, called it "romantic pornography" and "a piece of junk".[1]

In her essay for the Criterion Collection release, Annette Insdorf called The Night Porter "a provocative and problematic film. ... [I]t can be seen as an exercise in perversion and exploitation of the Holocaust for the sake of sensationalism. On the other hand, a closer reading of this English-language psychological thriller suggests a dark vision of compelling characters doomed by their World War II past."[1]

See also


  1. Insdorf, Annette (January 10, 2000) "The Night Porter" Criterion Collection
  2. Staff (ndg) "The Night Porter"
  3. Koven, Mikel J. "'The Film You Are About to See is Based on Fact': Italian Nazi Sexploitation Cinema" in Mathijs, Ernest and Mendik, Xavier (2004)Alternative Europe: Eurotrash and Exploitation Cinema Since 1945 Wallflower Press. p.20 ISBN 9781903364932
  4. Ebert, Roger (February 10, 1975). "The Night Porter". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2008-12-23.
  5. Wolff, Zoe (September 2, 2014) "Charlotte Rampling" Interview
  6. Staff (ndg) "The Night Porter" American Cinematheque
  7. "Biennale Cinema 2018, Venice Classics". Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  8. Maltin, Leonard (2004) Leonard's Maltin's Movie Guide 2005 Edition Plume. p. 999 ISBN 0-452-28592-5
  9. Sayre, Nora (October 2, 1974) "'The Night Porter,' Portrait of Abuse, Stars Bogarde" The New York Times
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