WORLD CINEMA: Victim (1961)

Pride celebrations continue here at the Garden and this month’s WORLD CINEMA is all about Victim (1961, dir. Basil Dearden), the iconic British thriller highly believed to be partly responsible for the changes in the illegalization of homosexuality in the UK (the Sexual Offences Act of 1967) and the general attitudes of the British public regarding the subject.

Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde) is a successful barrister who takes on the case of a young man, Jack Barrett (Peter McEnery), after he kills himself as a result of being blackmailed for being gay. When the blackmail ring proves to be much bigger than initially thought, Mel’s own private life and involvement with Jack come to light…

Let’s just get a few things out of the way first: Sir Dirk Bogarde was gay in real life and it’s obviously not a surprise that this was an extremely personal project for him and perhaps his greatest performance. As you probably know, I’m not a big fan of the ambigious expression ‘ahead of its time’ but in this case, it is totally deserved. In 1961, homosexuality was still a crime in the United Kingdom and for screenwriters Janet Green and John McCormick to write such a brave, bold and frankly badass story took guts. The subtle but clear interactions between the several characters leave no room for error: for instance, at around 30 minutes, the two police officers who just arrested Jack talk about the gays and express their very different opinions on the matter, with an attitude that is both refreshing and quite jarring for a film made in 1961. Not to mention that Melville’s now legendary confession to Laura (Sylvia Syms), his wife (‘I wanted him!’) is still incredible to watch. Victim may seem tame by today’s standards, but its impact on British culture cannot be overstated.

PRIDE MONTH: John Ireland and Montgomery Clift in Red River (1948)

June is Pride Month and, like always, celebrations abound here at the Garden. And while I’ve already talked about some of the big ones, like Morocco (1930), Hell’s Highway (1932) and Some Like It Hot (1959), as well as the more obscure stuff like Young Man With a Horn (1950), there is no shortage of LGBT-related content in Classic Hollywood films, however brief. And because I’m in a Westerns mood lately, I’ve decided to go with the precursor to Brokeback Mountain, Red River (1948, dir. Howard Hawks).

Now, while the homoerotic undertones are just that rather than the plot of the film – no kidding, thanks a lot, Joseph Breen… – it is quite wonderful and something everybody always talks about when Red River comes up. Especially when it’s up against the intense masculinity of the film: Tom Dunson (John Wayne) and his adopted son Matt Garth (Montgomery Clift in his debut film) lead a cattle drive to Missouri over a period of fourteen years until Dunson’s obsessive behavior becomes too much for everyone, leading to a war between the two men. Among the cattle ranch is Cherry Valance (John Ireland), a gunslinger who immediately strikes up a rather intense friendship with Garth. Right away, we know exactly where we are with these two: Valance asks to see Garth’s gun, after which they compare each other’s weapons, quip about Swiss watches and women, before having a shootout between them to show each other their skills. Their sizzling chemistry isn’t lost on anyone, least of all Groot (Walter Brennan), whose assessment of the whole situation is almost as erotic as the scene itself… Their subsequent conversations, which include Valance claiming Garth initially ‘turned him down’ when he asked to join the ranch, are equally charged with undertones that are impossible to overlook in 2021. They say this might have been the reason for why Valance’s part was gradually cut from the film, as Howard Hawks realized what was going on while in the editing room. This is, of course, surprising, considering the undertones of some of the characters in his biggest films: Cary Grant wearing a robe, saying he ‘went gay’ in Bringing up Baby (1938), the relationship between Geiger and Lundgren in The Big Sleep (1946) – as far as anybody can tell in that madness of a plot -, Cary Grant, again, in drag in I Was a Male War Bride (1949), among many others. Either way, it’s hot, it’s grand and it leaves you wanting more.

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