[box cover]

Victim

It's always interesting to consider how films that were provocative in their day can somehow be relegated to curiosity pieces, of interest to film historians and cinema buffs, but less powerful than they were at the time. Last Tango in Paris (1973) is one example, with its raw, passionate sex scenes that were notorious enough to make it an art-house hit. Another of the type is Victim (1961), the first film to use the word "homosexual," as well as "queer" in its malicious context. British matinee star Dirk Bogarde transformed his career with this daring picture, playing London barrister Melville Farr, a respected lawyer who is expected one day to be appointed to the bench. But he's unaware that a horrible secret is pursuing him — former acquaintance Jack Barrett (Peter McEnery) is on the run from the cops after stealing £2,300 from his employer. The police arrest the youth but find he hasn't a farthing, and thus immediately suspect he was being blackmailed. Unfortunately, Barrett commits suicide in his cell, leaving a scrapbook of Farr's newspaper clippings as the detectives' only clue. It's not long before the cops figure Barrett was gay, and that he had a gay tryst with the married, apparently straight Farr — a topic the barrister wants nothing to do with, thanks to England's harsh anti-sodomy laws that routinely imprison homosexuals. But Farr finds himself indignant and soon after launches his own private investigation, trailing leads through the streets of London, hoping to uncover the blackmailers for himself. Thanks to Victim and its up-front plea for social tolerance, it wasn't long after the film's release that anti-sodomy laws in the United Kingdom were repealed. And for that it has earned its place in the canons of cinema. But now, decades later, it must be examined in terms of filmmaking rather than social intent, where it has both strengths and weaknesses. Such brings to mind the U.S. television films An Early Frost (1985) and As Is (1986), which helped bring the plight of AIDS victims to the forefront of American consciousness. However, those two films also functioned well simply as family dramas — strip away the purpose of Victim, and it is an intriguing, if slender, crime thriller. Tension builds well in the first half of the story, primarily because we know that Farr's secret simply will have to come out. And the movie's key scene, when Farr is forced to confess his "crime" to his wife (Sylvia Syms) has a great power to it, and great pain. But once that's done and the lawyer has resolved himself to expose the blackmailers, no matter what the personal price, much of the internal drama dissolves into a routine policier. It's all well constructed by director Basil Dearden in a gritty neo-realist style, and solid performances dominate, particularly from Bogarde with his quiet, haunted dignity. But we never fully understand, by the end, just what these events are to cost him, personally and professionally — material that would have fleshed out the human drama that much more. Home Vision Entertainment's DVD release of Victim features a clean full-frame transfer (1.33:1) from an acceptable source-print that has some evident wear, with clean monaural audio in DD 2.0. Features include a 30-min. interview with Bogarde, who is utterly charming while relaxing in his London home during a friendly chat with a journalist. Keep-case.
—JJB



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