WINNER: TOP 25 LIBERTARIAN FILMS
When a young gay man in 1960s Britain commits suicide rather than face an inquiry regarding (then illegal) homosexual activity, a closeted bisexual barrister avenges his death and fights the law responsible for it. [ Victim credits: Dir: Basil Dearden/ Dirk Bogarde, Sylvia Syms, Dennis Price / 100 min/ Drama, Thriller/ Britain/ Government as Bigot, Sexual Liberty, Social Tolerance]
This was a revolutionary film. At the time it was made, homosexual activity was a serious offense in Britain. Thousands were sent to prison for it. And its illegality spurred a virtual crime wave of blackmail against gay men. In fact, ninety percent of all blackmail cases were gay related. The makers of this film sought to change all that by exposing the suffering that the law created.
In this story, a young man, Jack Barrett, is being blackmailed. He makes a series of desperate phone calls to a high-class barrister, Melville Farr. Unfortunately, Farr, a bisexual, believes that Barrett is trying to blackmail him and refuses the calls. Barrett commits suicide. Riddled with guilt that he had turned his back on a friend and (as he later learns) unknown protector, Farr determines to catch Barrett’s blackmailer and to reform the law, even if it means his own destruction.
In some respects, the film’s view of homosexuality is at times slightly outdated, but that’s forgivable given its otherwise radically progressive character.
That issue aside, this is a wonderful story of tragedy and heroism, and it’s told in an entertaining British mystery style, often with clever dialogue. One of my favorite exchanges is the following between two policemen discussing the case. First Policeman: “If the law punished every abnormality, we’d be kept pretty busy, sergeant.” Second Policeman: “Even so, Sir, this law was made for a very good reason. If it were changed, other weaknesses would follow.” First Policeman: “I can see you’re a true Puritan. … There was a time when that [too] was against the law, you know.”
Dirk Bogarde gives an outstanding performance in the leading role, as the heroic legal angel who avenges the young man’s death. In real life, he was just as heroic. Up to this point a popular and unobjectionable teen idol, Bogarde put his career on the line to make this film and defended its controversial content–a courageous thing for anyone to do at the time but all the more so for a man who, as it turned out, was himself secretly gay. When Bogarde, in the character of Melville Farr, swears he will fight this law even if it means his own destruction, few knew it was not just a portrayal of courage but an act of one. Through Victim, he and others deliberately set out to demonstrate the harm brought about by the ban on homosexual activity and to free the thousands held in prison for its offense. Six years after the its release, such activity was decriminalized in Britain.
“What a gripping film – melodramatic and self-conscious, yes, but forthright and bold. Its tendency to show homosexuality as a tragic, pitiable quirk of nature may now look like condescension, but for the time this was real risk-taking. It has some of the earnestness of the traditional ‘issue’ movie, but it’s also a drum-tight thriller with a neat twist in the tail.”
“Released at a time when any homosexual act between men was illegal, Victim has often been cited as the catalyst for the liberating Wolfenden Report and the subsequent legalisation of homosexual activities. Revolutionary and aware of its own importance, Victim successfully treads the precarious tightrope, being both a gripping drama and a taboo-smashing landmark.”
Eye for Film
“With its assertive hero and hopeful conclusion, Victim made a difference…In 1967, Lord Arran introduced legislation repealing the Criminal Offences Act. He wrote Dirk Bogarde about Victim, praising him for ‘your courage in undertaking this difficult and potentially damaging part.’ When Bogarde protested, Lord Arran insisted that ‘we’ve both done our bit’ to decriminalize homosexuality. He mused that ‘it is comforting to think that perhaps a million men are no longer living in fear.'”
“Shot in high-contrast black-and-white, edged with the darkness of a sitting-room at night but trapped in a fierce spotlight, Bogarde is mesmerising. Crisply suited, dry-voiced and on the edge of tears, he painfully stifles the emotion threatening to destroy him. With the camera locked in close-up, he lifts his chin ever so slightly in defiance, his eyes widening into a glare of triumph that costs him everything.”
How to See It
More Films About: Government as Bigot
More Films About: Sexual Liberty
More Films About: Social Tolerance
Wikipedia: Wolfenden Report
Wikipedia: LGBT rights by country or territory
Wikipedia: Sodomy law
Mother Jones: You Thought It Was Tough Being Gay in Uganda. “It’s Hell in Nigeria.”
New York Times: Russia’s Anti-Gay Crackdown
The Guardian: Gay rights around the world: the best and worst countries for equality
Slate: You Can Still Be Arrested for Being Gay in Red-State America
The Independent: India’s gay community scrambling after court decision recriminalises homosexuality
New York Times: Nigeria Tries to ‘Sanitize’ Itself of Gays
New York Daily News: Hiding Cuba’s crimes behind gay rights lies
National Post: The communist roots of Russian homophobia
Washington Post: Here are the 10 countries where homosexuality may be punished by death
The Guardian: Iran executes three men on homosexuality charges