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Victim (1961) is a British drama film directed by Basil Dearden, starring Dirk Bogarde and Sylvia Syms. It is notable in film history for being the first English language film to use the word "homosexual". The first film to use the word was the German film Anders als die Andern (1919). The world premiere was at the Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square on 31 August 1961. On its release in the United Kingdom it proved highly controversial and was initially banned in the United States. A successful barrister, Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde) has a thriving London practice. He is on course to become a Queen's Counsel and people are already talking of him being appointed a judge. He is apparently happily married to his wife, Laura (Sylvia Syms). Farr is approached by "Boy" Barrett (Peter McEnery), a younger working class man with whom Farr shared a romantic but asexual relationship. Farr rebuffs the approach, thinking Barrett wants to blackmail him about their relationship. What Farr does not know is that Barrett himself has fallen prey to blackmailers who know of their relationship. The blackmailers have a picture of Farr and Barrett in a vehicle together, in which Barrett is crying.
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.