Victim (1961)
April 8, 2023 8:56 AM - Subscribe

Basil Dearden's landmark 1961 noir about gay men in London victimized by a blackmail ring is credited with helping shift British attitudes about homosexuality. Closeted actor Dirk Bogarde plays the guilt-ridden lawyer who decides to fight back. Surprisingly thrilling, and sympathetic to a range of gay characters who are presented with minimal stereotyping (for the time). Banned from wide release in the US because Dearden refused to make concessions. 100/87 at Rotten Tomatoes, on HBO and the Criterion Channel.

Appearing midway between the 1957 Wolfenden Report that recommended legalizing homosexuality and the 1967 Sexual Offences Act that finally did so, Victim portrayed a variety of gay men: a married lawyer on his way to a judgeship, comfortable actors hiding a thruple, an elderly barber, a scared young kid at the start of the film who's on the run from the cops for stealing to pay off his blackmailers.

Sharp Senses of Cinema review

1961 Sight and Sound review reprinted at BFI
posted by mediareport (2 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ok, I admit to approaching this one like homework - "well, shit, I should probably watch this classic depressing 1960s movie about gay people" - but was very surprised to find it's really thrilling, engaging, and well made. Yes, it's suffused with tragic moments from the start, when we follow the young kid who bolts from work when the cops show up, to the emotional, realistic-but-hopeful end, but it's also a fascinating attempt to portray gay men in London as no better or worse than straight folks.

Way ahead of its time, with excellent performances and only a few cringey moments (one of the actors in the thruple defends himself by saying "I never corrupted the normals", e.g.). Sylvia Syms is great as the trying-to-be-understanding but incredibly hurt wife of Dirk Bogarde, and the rapidly evolving plot combines noir detective elements, sociological explorations and police procedural bits, with a couple of surprising twists as the threads all converge.

An important moment in film history that's also a really thrilling film to watch. Highly recommended for fans of queer film history.
posted by mediareport at 9:08 AM on April 8, 2023

Oh, I meant to mention one other cringe element: the film goes out of its way to note Dirk Bogarde's lawyer character never had sex with the youth he was photographed with, or the earlier college buddy he discusses with his wife. Neither of those "I was chaste!" moments ring true, so I just ignored them. The things we have to do with dated films lol.
posted by mediareport at 9:57 AM on April 8, 2023

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