Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Dirk's Victim & those west end boys ...

Our London Live cable channel
showing old British movies
I have done quite a bit on Dirk here - check all the various posts and pictures at Dirk label - but I have not actually said much about his 1961 VICTIM, a film I know so well, having seen it several times since I was a teenager. It was interesting looking at it again the other day, its a thriller of course but is also a classic London film and like Dearden's POOL OF LONDON and SAPPHIRE, a perfect period piece now, as we take in the gay society of the early Sixties, from working class lads, to toffs and famous actors and their milieus of gentlemens' clubs and of course that then famous gay bar, The Salisbury. 

Boy Barrett, a junior accountant on a building site, flees when he sees the police arriving - he has been stealing money to pay blackmailers, as have several other homosexuals, as homosexuality was then illegal in Britain. When the police catch up with him he is trying to destroy evidence that links him to prominent barrister Melville Farr, soon to be  QC. When Farr realises Barrett has killed himself to protect him, he determines to track down the blackmailers no matter what cost to his reputation or his marriage. Will the other blackmail victims help and just who, among all the red herrings, is the real blackmailer? 

I know all these haunts, from the bedsits and flats of Boy Barrett and his crowd, to the West End we see in aspic here. Its fascinating for a London guy to see these locations now. Henry's barber shop is just off Cambridge Circus and Charing Cross Road/Seven Dials, just over from the big Palace Theatre where FLOWER DRUM SONG is playing - and later we see Dirk as barrister Melville Farr with the police outside that other theatre near the Salisbury where OLIVER is playing, with Ron Moody and Georgia Brown on nameboards above their heads. Norman Bird's bookshop must be one of those in Cecil Court, just off St Martin's Lane. (I had that paperback of the film then, when a teenager...).

The Salisbury is fascinating too, seeing those gilt interiors once again. This was a gay haunt during my working in the area in the 80s, where I would meet pals every Friday lunchime, and sometimes in the evening too, when out on the razz. As I mentioned elsewhere, Susannah York was standing next to me there once, as she drank with a friend. It was a famous theatrical bar, near the theatres, where actors appearing in the west end would hang out. A friend said he saw Alec Guinness there ... It has since been de-gayed and is now a tourist trap ...

Its a lovely cast here - not only Dirk as Melville Farr, but young Peter McEnery is an ideal Boy Barrett - he went on to Disney films (see label), a Vadim with Jane Fonda and lots of theatre: he was the first HAMLET I saw in 1967, and also in SHADOW OF A GUNMAN and a LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC) and of course he was the ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE. He should be doing more now in his 70s. 
Dennis Price also scores as the blackmailed actor, with society friends Anthony Nicholls and Peter Copley, while barfly Madge (Mavis Villiers) chats to the gay-hating barman at The Salisbury, and Hilton Edwards has a charity scam; Charles Lloyd-Pack is poor Henry, while Derren Nesbitt is suitably butch as the blackmailing leather boy. It works as an efficient thriller and the police nicely discuss the pros and cons of homosexuality being illegal causing lots of blackmail cases. We have to laugh at Boy's friend and his blonde cutie in her baby doll nightie, feeling sorry for Boy as he does not have what they have ...

Dirk famously lost his "Idol of the Odeons" image for playing gay here and looking a bit older than he did in those Rank opuses like CAMPBELL'S KINGDOM or THE WIND CANNOT READ, and Sylvia Syms is perfect as the puzzled wife. Dirk apparantly wrote much of the confrontation scene with her, with his "because I wanted him" speech. His performance was all the more courageous for the sensitivity and depth he afforded the role; of course the film is now “hopelessly outdated” in its attitude to homosexuality (Philip Kemp, Sight and Sound, 2005), despite being an 'X' certificate film - but it was an incredibly significant landmark of queer representation in British cinema. Dearden, as ever, delivers it all with panache. Its a quaint but still richly rewarding British Noir thriller, as well as a significant one, and well worth seeing any time. 


1 comment:

  1. I like this film very much, and Bogarde is wonderful. You're right, it's quite dated now, but a good history lesson for young people who may not realize that homosexuality was a punishable criminal offense up until relatively recent times.

    Upon a very recent viewing, I was pleasantly surprised that the police chief gives the opinion that homosexuality be decriminalized, and is sympathetic toward the victims of blackmail...long before the gay rights movement gained any mass traction.