Gay Pride Month: Must-See LGBTQ Films–Victim (1961): Dearden’s Landmark British Drama about Homosexuality, Starring Dirk Bogarde in Breakthrough Performance (LGBTQ, Gay Cinema)

Gay Pride Month: Must-See LGBTQ Films

Though dated and tame by today’s standards, the 1961 drama, Victim, was ground-breaking in its honest and straightforward depiction of homosexuality and how it was perceived at the time as a mental illness and a dangerous social problem.

Due to its risque subject matter, the film was deemed too controversial in the U.K., and was initially banned in the US.

Our Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

The film features a strong, breakthrough performance from Dirk Bogarde, who succeeded in changing his popular matinée idol image (in the 1950s “Doctor” film series).  In the next decade, he would become an iconic international actor, collaborating with Joseph Losey (“The Servant”), Visconti (“Death in Venice”), and others.

Bogarde plays Melville Farr, a successful barrister, about to become a Queen’s Counsel; his peers and the media are already talking of his prospective appointment as a judge.

However, it turns out he is a closeted homosexual whose former lover is arrested and commits suicide in order to protect Melville’s name.

This tragic death leads Bogarde to a blackmail ring targeting gay men, which he decides to pursue, at the risks of his marriage to Laura Farr (Sylvia Syms), the woman who loves him, and his prospective career.

As a successful barrister, he is determined to track down and bring a ring of blackmailers to justice, even though he risks making public his own past.

Director Basil Dearden insisted that homosexuals should be called “inverts,” the movie nevertheless refuses to pigeonhole or patronize its subjects, depicting homosexuals in every social class.

Detailed Plot (Spoiler Alert)

Melville Farr is approached by “Boy” Barrett (Peter McEnery), a younger working class man with whom Farr had a brief asexual affair. Farr rebuffs the approach, thinking Barrett wants to blackmail him about their relationship. What Farr does not know is that Barrett himself has fallen prey to blackmailers who know of their bond. The blackmailers have a picture of Farr and Barrett in a car, showing Barrett crying. Barrett has been trying to reach Farr to appeal for help since Barrett (a clerk) has stolen £2,000 from his employers to pay the blackmail; the police are now onto him. Farr avoids him, and Barrett is picked up by the police. Knowing it will be only a matter of time before he is forced to reveal Farr’s identity as the other man, Barrett hangs himself in a police cell.

Farr then takes on the blackmail ring and recruits a friend of Barrett’s to investigate the case. The friend identifies a gay hairdresser who has also been victimized by the ring, but the hairdresser refuses to cooperate. Later, when the hairdresser is visited by the blackmailers, he suffers a heart attack. Prior to his death, he calls Farr’s house and leaves an incoherent message about another victim.

Farr contacts this victim–a famous actor– who refuses to help, instead opting to acquiesce to the blackmail in hopes of keeping their secret. When Laura finds out about Barrett’s death, she confronts her husband, demanding to know the truth. Farr confesses that he had an affair with another man who subsequently killed himself when the relationship ended. Though he promised that he no longer had such “urges,” upon learning of this new affair, Laura decides to leave him.

When the blackmailers vandalize Farr’s property, painting “Farr Is Queer” on his garage, he decides to cooperate with the police and testify in court, despite knowing that the press coverage of the scandal will certainly destroy his career. Working with the police, Farr ensnares the blackmailers, who are arrested.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He asks Laura to leave so that she will not have to face the brutal nastiness during the trial, but she tells him that she is strong enough to stand by him.

In the film’s last image, Farr burns the photo that had incriminated him.

Note:

If you want to know more about gay films and gay directors, please read my book:

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press)

Though greeted with decent reviews, in its initial release, Victim was a commercial failure both in England and the U.S.  However, over the years, it has gained a broader viewership and is now considered a seminal film in the representation of gay issues.

After this film, the gay actor Dirk Bogarde, who never came out, went on to become a gay icon in such seminal films as Joseph Losey’s The Servant (1963), and Visconti’s The Damned (1969) and Death in Venice (1971)

Cast

Melville Farr–Dirk Bogarde

Laura Farr–Sylvia Syms

Calloway–Dennis Price

Lord Fullbrook–Anthony Nicholls

Paul Mandrake–Peter Copley

Harold Doe–Norman Bird

Jack Barrett–Peter McEnery

Eddy Stone–Donald Churchill

Sandy Youth–Derren Nesbitt

Credits:

Directed by Basil Dearden
Produced by Michael Relph
Written by Janet Green and John McCormick
Music by Philip Green
Cinematography: Otto Heller
Edited by John D. Guthridge
Production company: Allied Film Makers
Distributed by Rank Film Distributors
Release date: August 31, 1961 (UK); February 5, 1962 (US)
Running time: 96 minutes