Helmut Berger did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Martin Von Essenbeck in The Damned.
Helmut Berger plays Martin Von Essenbeck one of the potential heirs to the family's fortune and power. One of his earliest scenes set the tone for his character which does not change from there on. This being his appearance in drag as he sings a cabaret song and really his performance here reminded very much of Joel Grey's performance as the master of ceremonies in Cabaret which covered the same time period as the Damned. Berger even has that similarly gremlin like voice that Grey used. I can't say he's even close to being as good as Grey on this point, although the intentions of his character are a bit different technically speaking in that Martin does more than perform on stage. Although off-stage really is not too different to be sure as Berger gives a very flamboyant performance and technically speaking he seems to represent the same sort of debauched decadence during the rise of Nazis that Grey did in that later film.
Berger after that routine appears around in the dark corners of the frame as a depraved creature who spends some his time molesting children. Berger's performance is all about being creepy and I guess he is, but it's not as though there is anything special about his creepiness so to speak. He gives the glares he walks about in a slimy way, and speaks in his peculiar way. He does not do this in a way that's actively bad, as I suppose this performance really could have gone, but I just never found anything he was doing particularly compelling. Martin's place in the story is that he is at first being used as a pawn to act as basically a puppet ruler for others as he acts disinterested in anything other than his personal vices. When things become more complicated later on due to circumstances he gets pushed around a bit by his mother and a few of the other players in the game.Berger essentially shows him to be just as creepy when he's crying as when he's being devious, and you don't really get much more of the character from these scenes either.
Eventually Martin takes the next step as his debauching becomes one with taking power for himself as he has sex with his mother, and joins the S.S. Now this kinda just happens really and I suppose it shows the inadequacy of Berger's performance. There's something oddly straight forward about it as it just happens and even him gaining a sort of strength also just kinda happens. Berger keeps his same creepy manner no matter what is happening and there is nothing remarkable about the transition that he depicts. This almost seems an odd case because I would not describe him as obviously bad because he's not really truly bad, he's just oddly does not make the sort of visceral impact one would expect from a character like this. Everything so devious about him is there for us to see but Berger does not give the character the presence the character needs. He's creepy enough though not in the pervasive way he needs to be. His work I'd say can be used frankly to show why the performances of the aforementioned Grey and for another example Robert Blake in Lost Highway should be praised. The simple truth is by the end of the film I thought Martin ended up being kinda forgettable which is a problem given all that he does throughout the film.