Pioneers are often forgotten. We all remember that Midnight Cowboy was the first X-rated movie to win Best Picture, but who remembers what movie first used the term ‘homosexual?’
It would be hard to tell the story of Victim without it. This film broke serious ground in 1961 by addressing homosexuality in Britain full-on. At the time, Britain had laws against sodomy, which let blackmailers run rampant against gays. The police didn’t seem to care, which made things all the worse. Victim tells the story of just such a case, with a gay lawyer investigating the death of one blackmailer’s victim, eventually uncovering a number of men under his thumb and finally taking him to court. The catch: our lawyer (played by the semi-closeted-in-real-life Dirk Bogarde) is also gay (or at least was gay), and the trial will ruin his career as he gets his man. (No pun intended.)
For all of Victim‘s earnest issue exploration — this is Basil Dearden’s open railing against the sodomy law; he wouldn’t get his repeal until 1967 — it can be devilishly stilted. Sure, Brits are stuffy, but no one behaves this stiffly outside of Jane Austen adaptations. Bogarde, his hair swept impossibly high, rules the production, and another actor (whose name escapes me) also makes an impression as the blackmailer, always seen wearing goggles.
Shot in widescreen black and white, Victim is an exceptionally well-produced film with bracing contrast in its dark shadows. The new DVD looks great and adds an interview with Bogarde as an extra.