A Classic Gay Thriller
Finally out on DVD is “Victim” with an energetic, enigmatic, perfect performance by the late Dirk Bogarde which is reason enough to watch this gay thriller. As Melville Farr, Bogarde, a married, successful lawyer (and in the closet), lives in fear as a group of murderers begin blackmailing him. This same group had already murdered his lover and Farr decides to catch them at their own game. By doing so he puts his marriage and his career in precarious situations.
In the 1970s this was a daring movie to make but in revisiting today, we see a movie that may have been groundbreaking once, only holding up as a curiosity peace which is redeemed by the strength of Bogarde’s magnificent acting. Nevertheless, it is an important film that helped pave the way for what we have on the screen today. Unlike other movies that early on dealt with the subject of homosexuality (“Advice and Consent”, “The Tenth Man”), “Victim” shows gay men to be compassionate and sympathetic. The movie belongs to Bogarde who was an openly gay male put his career at risk when he undertook this role as the world was nothing like it is today. The subtleness and restraint of his acting is a wonder to see.
The plot is simple. As Farr is faced with public exposure and police action because of the British laws against homosexuality takes it upon himself to save his career and his marriage by attempting to expose the blackmail plot which forced his lover to commit suicide and is determined to seek revenge on those that caused this. The only problem is that as the movie shows homosexuality as “normal”, it backs down towards the end of the film. Yet it is a frank and open look at a gay man and for the first6 three fourths of the film, it does so bravely. In the last quarter, all comes tumbling down as we are somewhat pushed back into “the celluloid closet”.
The movie gives a wealth of detail about gay life in Britain and shows how adverse people were to hearing about the lifestyle. The movie supports the evils of homophobia yet the gay relationships we see in the film appear to be shallow and transitory. If the goal of the filmmakers was to present an argument that homosexuality should become part of the mainstream, the gay characters resented in the movie hardly attest to that. Several are played as deviants, one is blind and others are not photographed to their best advantage (but this is what the times allowed).The visible differences seen on the screen helped to accentuate the differences that were felt by the society of the time and that is a pity.
As we all know too well, pioneers are only remembered for a short period of time. How many of us ever focus on the fact that “Midnight Cowboy”, an X-rated film that actually used the word “homosexual” won the Academy Award? How many even know there was an early film, like “Victim”, that dealt with our lives? In 1961 “Victim” broke ground by looking at homosexuality seriously and showed that the police were oblivious to those who ran blackmailing schemes against gays. Quite naturally the film was stilted but it was a reflection of the times and had to be. At that time if someone went to jail because of his lifestyle, he was labeled forever, both legally and publicly, as a “convicted homosexual”. The script which is intelligent tends to become preachy at times but it has received the credit it deserves in bringing about the eventual change of the sodomy law. Even with its melodrama, this movie presents many eye opening scenes and has helped to tear down the walls of prejudice behind which we were forced to hide for so long. For me, at least, this is a must-see film for anyone who wants to understand not only the evolution of gay film but of the way we once had to live.