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Monday, May 19, 2014

VICTIM (1961)

It’s the curse of socially progressive pics to date poorly, so ‘on topic’ they quickly fall behind the conversation. But Basil Dearden’s forward-thinking tale of closeted gays getting blackmailed in Pre-Swingin’ London avoids the earnest tone of do-gooder’s condescension by tethering its message to a first-rate suspenseful police procedural. The genre tropes help the medicine go down without much preaching to the converted or banging us on the head with obvious conclusions. Or, does so for about two-thirds of its running time. Dirk Bogarde, in a career realignment*, is the rising barrister who mistakenly believes he’s about to be blackmailed by a young man he’s befriended. Turns out, he’s read the situation all wrong; the young man’s trying to protect him. But it’s a tricky business in the U.K. with homosexual acts still illegal, and blackmail victims unable to go to the police without incriminating themselves. Bogarde realizes he can only fight back by putting his career & marriage on the line. The film has the devil of a time sorting out the relationship between Bogarde and his wife (Sylvia Syms), which is probably what kills the last act. Regardless of the resolution, she’s stuck with the short end of the stick . . . so to speak.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Bogarde closed the door on his matinee idol days here, moving over to art house regular and bringing his slightly weary, slightly decadent bi-sexual tone to projects for Losey, Fassbinder, Cukor & Visconti, among others. Yet he remained personally a bit coy about his own sexuality, in spite of multiple volumes of autobiographical writing. CLICK on this puff piece, published when VICTIM was released to see how times have changed.

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