Victim

1961, Movie, NR, 100 mins

Review

VICTIM
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A powerful film that deals with homosexuality in England and the fact that most of the blackmail cases in that country were aimed against men trying to stay in the closet. In 1961, any homosexual acts were illegal and, while this film was hardly an overt plea to change the laws, it did have some impact; a few years later homosexuality was no longer punishable by time in jail. Bogarde, in one of the best roles of his career to date, plays Melville Farr, a closeted lawyer aware of his own homosexual desires. He is married now to Laura (Syms), who knows about his past affairs but accepts him nonetheless. Some years before, Farr had an affair with construction worker Jack Barrett (McEnery) but denies it. Barrett is now a wanted man, having stolen money from his building company. When he's caught by the police, the truth emerges that Barrett doesn't have a brass farthing to his name. Since a great deal of money had been purloined, this sets the law to wondering where it all went. Barrett needs a lawyer and tries to contact Farr, but the eminent queen's counsel avoids him. When Barrett hangs himself rather than answer any police questions, Farr realizes that his former lover was being blackmailed and that Barrett was trying to protect Farr's good name. The blackmailers are extracting money from several people, including a barber, an actor, a used car salesman and a photographer. (The film earnestly tries to avoid stereotyping, though to some extent these "victims" do represent a variety of "types".) Although it may damage both his career and his marriage, Farr decides to go after the blackmailers and prosecute them himself.

Immensely significant in its plea for tolerance for gay men (interestingly, lesbianism is not discussed here), VICTIM works hard arguing that gays are part of the typical, healthy fabric of society. For that alone, it was highly controversial and was refused the Seal of the Motion Picture Association of America. On its own terms, the film works quite well. The drama is exciting, the writing cogent, the acting often superb and the production and direction by the team of Dearden and Relph quite fine. Every role, no matter how small, is very intelligently cast and even the blackmailers were given some depth and character contradictions. In acting terms, the film quite properly belongs to the dynamic yet sensitive Bogarde, but McEnery, as his former lover, and Price, as a blackmailed actor, also stand out. The film does, of course, shy away from certain aspects of its provocative subject matter, and a great deal of emphasis is laid on Farr's heterosexual relations with his wife. (It probably takes up more footage than is actually necessary, but this subplot broadens the role of Farr and is fairly well handled.) A liberal film on the subject of homosexuality rather than the radical film some considered it at the time, VICTIM still stands as an intelligent film attempting to address an important social issue. leave a comment

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