Sunday, May 01, 2011

Underrated Movie #115: Victim

Title: Victim
Year: 1961
Director: Basil Dearden
Writers: Janet Green and John McCormick
Stars: Dick Borgarde, Sylvia Syms, Dennis Price, Nigel Stock

The Story: A young London construction worker has an affair with a closeted barrister, then becomes the target of blackmailers (homosexuality was still a serious crime in England). After he ends up dead, the married barrister decides that he must investigate on his own and break the back of the blackmail ring, even if he has to out himself in the process.

How it Came to be Underrated: This movie is well-remembered for its “importance” but it’s not as well known that it’s a great little thriller in its own rite.

Why It’s Great:

  1. I had assumed that this would be a well-meaning but leaden melodrama. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it’s actually a brisk and clever crime movie, intercutting the police’s blind pursuit of the blackmailers (frustrated by an understandable lack of support from the victims) with Borgarde’s own vigilante investigation from within the hidden gay community. The twists and turns of the conspiracy pay off very satisfyingly in the end.
  2. I had heard that this movie was remarkably ahead of its time, but I nevertheless found it hard to believe any movie on this subject from ’61 could actually be entirely inoffensive. Even as I watched, I kept thinking “so far, this is amazing, but at any point it’s going to go very wrong.” I kept waiting for a giggling gay psychopath to appear, or for a likable character to equate gay men with pedophiles, or for the married hero to kill himself in shame. But none of these things happen. This movie could have been written today!—Actually it’s even more impressive than that—This movie couldn’t have been written today!
  3. Many of the members of the wonderful ensemble cast also appeared on my favorite TV series, “Secret Agent”. Like this movie, that show never forgot that if you scratch a crime in London you’ll always find a complex arrangement of class resentments festering underneath.
  4. It’s also great to see Dennis Price from Kind Hearts and Coronets show back up briefly on Borgarde’s comprehensive tour of the many strata of London’s closeted community, as a West End stage star who’s another target of the blackmailers.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: This movie was singled out for praise in The Celluloid Closet, a powerful documentary on the history of gay images (positive and negative) in the movies. Borgarde was also great in John Schlesinger’s Darling, which is now on Watch Instantly.

How Available Is It?: It’s got a beautiful DVD with a fun, breezy interview with Borgarde.

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1 comment:

tanita davis said...

This sounds amazing.