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Thread: Victim (1961)

  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    Who was the real victim - the actor or the man?



    By David Thomson

    Published: 17 July 2005



    Dirk Bogarde had it exactly right about Victim. In his autobiography, Snakes and Ladders (1978), he looked back on 1961 and said, "It is extraordinary, in this over-permissive age, to believe that this modest film could ever have been considered courageous, daring or dangerous to make. It was, in its time, all three."



    Victim, re-issued this month, is not a great film; it is not as revelatory as The Servant, the picture Bogarde made in 1963. No matter. "Janet Green's modest, tight, neat little thriller, for that is all it was fundamentally, might not have been Shaw, Ibsen, or Strindberg, but it did at least probe and explore a hitherto forbidden Social Problem, simply, clearly, and with great impact for the first time in an English-speaking film."



    Until 1966 and the Wolfenden Report, homosexual acts between consenting adults were illegal in Britain. There were prosecutions and Sunday newspapers that gave space to the court reports. Yet, by 1960, the police were as relaxed as possible over the old laws. There was a feeling that the code violated decent liberty. But police restraint did not deter the menace of blackmail.



    The bleak little story of Victim concerns a successful solicitor, Melvin Farr (Bogarde), who has a thriving London practice. He is likely to take silks; and people are already talking of a judgeship. He is apparently happily married to a wife played by Sylvia Syms, who was in those days one of the most attractive leading ladies in British film.



    But Farr is approached, in desperation, by "Boy" Barrett (Peter McEnery), one of his former lovers. Farr rebuffs the approach and not long afterwards Barrett hangs himself in a police cell. The vicious blackmailing ring closes in, and Farr becomes their most notable victim. His marriage is nearly destroyed. But Farr agrees to help the police, to give evidence in court, no matter that the worst Sunday papers will destroy his career.



    When the team of producer Michael Relph and director Basil Dearden first approached Bogarde, they warned him that a lot of people had already turned down the script - because the material might be dangerous or unwholesome. Bogarde in 1960 was 39, and just about the most popular star in British films. He had proven himself playing war heroes (The Sea Shall Not Have Them; Ill Met by Moonlight); he was the centrepiece in the hugely successful Doctor in the House series; and he was a reliable romantic lead in movies like A Tale of Two Cities. He was flirting with a larger, Hollywood career - playing Liszt in Song Without End. Bogarde was also a confirmed homosexual, happily "married" to his business manager, Tony Forward, though compelled every now and then to be seen in public with attractive young women to divert suspicion.



    Bogarde seems not to have hesitated over the role of Farr. Similarly, Sylvia Syms never flinched from the part of his wife, though apparently several actresses had turned it down. Not that Victim is a complete picture. There is a central compromise in that Farr seems to have outlived his homosexual past and to be genuinely in love with his wife. Their marriage survives, even if Farr's career is shot. Bogarde gives a very moving performance, but he never took the opportunity to admit, or even to hint, that he and Farr had things in common. On the other hand, Victim served to separate the star from his fond, young following and to pave the way for The Servant, Darling, Modesty Blaise, Accident, Justine, The Damned, Death in Venice and The Night Porter.



    Granted a proper sense of history, the tight little thriller stands up pretty well. Otto Heller's black-and-white photography captures the wintry gloom of London. The cast is rich in supporting performances (look for Dennis Price, Nigel Stock, Hylton Edwards), and we are left in no doubt about the suspicion and paranoia induced by the laws against homosexual behaviour. Equally, the film misses (or ignores) the tremendous dark, theatrical humour of the gay community.



    But there's a coda to the story that is unexpected or depressing. Dirk Bogarde had taken a brave step, and he had assisted in the making of an authentic film of protest - part of the mood that would soon liberalise the law. Bogarde was also established in other ways by the time of his death, in 1999. He was by then a respected actor; a successful writer (both memoirs and novels); and someone knighted by the Queen. But to the very end, Sir Dirk lacked the inner freedom to admit to his own emotional life. In other words, the repressive forces of English fear and respectability oppressed him still, no matter that the law had been reformed. That is the surest testimony to the clammy anxiety of Victim.





    'Victim' is re-issued at selected cinemas on 29 July

  2. #2
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    Mmm - a nice piece ; perhaps a little misguided though towards the end.



    Certainly in earlier years the whole issue of Bogarde's sexuality could have destroyed him, thus it is understandable that he should remain well and truly in the 'closet', as it were. Latterly, however, he needed to admit such things to no-one but himself.



    At the end of the day you have to remember that you are talking about an intensely private person, whether this was engendered from nature or from the earlier 'criminality' of his sexual behaviour.



    I do not believe that Bogarde was a victim ; in fact I would say that, conversely, his was the victory. He played the 'straight' system at its own game and emerged

    with the advantage of being a star, a respected actor, author and with general good fortune to boot.



    Boiling things down to a base sexuality (or to abase the person due to that sexuality) rarely brings any good. If anything Bogarde the man was an example - a private, self assured, dedicated and faithful man. We should be so lucky such attributes be found in our own relationships with the world.



    SMUDGE

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    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    Filmmakers on film: Terence Davies



    Last Updated: 12:01am BST 21/04/2007



    The Liverpool-born writer-director discusses Basil Dearden's Victim (1961) with Sheila Johnston



    In 1961, Terence Davies, then 16, was working in the accounts department of a Liverpool shipping office, where he became friends with a colleague. "I thought he was dead sophisticated but also slightly different. We'd have lunch in town, and afterwards he'd go to British Home Stores and buy make-up.



    Dirk Bogarde in Basil Dearden's Victim (1961)

    Brave: Dirk Bogarde as a married barrister who is blackmailed for being gay in Victim



    "Eventually he said, 'There's something I need to tell you: I'm queer.' I said, 'So am I.' And I felt that at last there was someone else like me.



    "One Friday he said, 'Let's go to the pictures - there's a Dirk Bogarde film on at the Odeon.' " As Davies recalls it, they had no idea what the movie was about, and indeed, at the beginning, as a young man is seen running from the police through a building site, it's by no means clear what's going on. Then he commits suicide, an investigation begins, and the bombshell falls.



    "The police inspector says, 'Of course he was a homosexual.' And you could have heard a feather drop in the cinema - the atmosphere was electric. That word was never used in England. Never! Because it was such a shock, I couldn't concentrate on the rest of the film."



    Bogarde's character, a married barrister, is secretly gay and one of a number of men targeted by a blackmail ring. The dead youth was his ex-lover, and this impels him to testify against the blackmailers, at the cost of his reputation, his career and possibly his marriage.

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    "It was extremely brave to make the film at a time when homosexuality was still a criminal offence. Changing the law took another six years. But I think Victim helped: it was part of a general move towards being more liberal." Did it make Davies feel militant himself? "Well," he replies wryly, "Dirk Bogarde making a stand in the Inner Temple was a bit different from being the youngest of 10 in a working-class family in Liverpool."



    Davies documented the dark age of his childhood in a semi-autobiographical trilogy of shorts and his first feature, Distant Voices, Still Lives, currently revived at BFI Southbank in a retrospective of his work. He conjured intimate family memories in free-form images, sometimes bleak and brutal, at others tender, nostalgic and achingly beautiful.



    He proved that he could move beyond personal material with two adaptations: of John Kennedy Toole's The Neon Bible and Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. Both had splendid reviews, yet failed to establish his commercial credentials and he has not made a feature since, though not for want of trying. He is understandably waspish on the subject.



    "British cinema is about being liked in America," he asserts. "If you win an Oscar, not only is your knighthood assured, your sainthood is. But what if that's of no interest to you? What do you do then?"



    Victim, by contrast, is the least ingratiating of British films, and a courageous choice for Bogarde, then enormously popular for playing war heroes and heartthrobs, notably in the Doctor in the House comedies. Freed from his long contract with Rank studios, he intended to focus on more exacting fare such as Victim, despite being advised against it. His original fan base withered thereafter. But it paved the way for some extraordinary work including The Servant, Accident, Darling, Death in Venice and The Night Porter.



    'When I saw Victim again, what struck me was the exquisiteness of Bogarde's performance," Davies continues. "Not only in the way he delivers the lines but also his gestures. Partly because he was gay himself, although he couldn't say so, he could play with all those little nuances of guilt and terror that a straight actor wouldn't know about."



    He singles out two scenes. In the first, Bogarde is phoned by his lover and hangs up on him.



    "He pauses just a second before he puts the phone down. It's full of regret: one of those hovering moments that change your life. Another great sequence comes at the end, when he confesses to his wife. The thing that makes it touching beyond belief is when he coughs and you understand just how embarrassed he is. It's British acting at its best, utterly restrained but deeply moving. At the time, they had to make Victim very crusading and wave the banner. But what comes across today is the delicacy and the humanity of it."



    The director, Basil Dearden, had a reputation for addressing social issues; two years previously, he had made Sapphire, about racial prejudice. "His films are conventional but well-crafted. Victim has some very nice black-and-white photography and the interiors especially are lovely to look at. He's a good jobbing director and there's nothing wrong with that. I wouldn't mind being one myself. I'd work more!"



    Ever hopeful, Davies is seeking finance for a new script: Mad About the Boy (nothing to do with Noël Coward; he just likes the title). "It's a ménage �* trois set in the fashion world in London and Paris: a contemporary romantic comedy, in colour and with a happy ending," he says, and laughs, semi-incredulously. "Who would have thought it?"

  4. #4
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    a haunting and thought provoking film. Great performances from all especially Bogarde and Sims and Nesbitt. Great little side plot played out in the pub also. Absolutely fantastic

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    Quote Originally Posted by stevie boy
    a haunting and thought provoking film. Great performances from all especially Bogarde and Sims and Nesbitt. Great little side plot played out in the pub also. Absolutely fantastic
    I also love this film, and I personally think it ranks alongside The Servant and Death in Venice as Bogarde's finest. Terrific acting all round, and a thought provoking film that handled a delicate issue with intelligence.



    Regards

    Phil Turner

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    Channel 4 are showing the 1961 film Victim today(7-12-07),starring Dirk Bogarde and Sylvia Syms.I was reading the Daily Mail supplement and in the film choice it mentions that several other actors turned down the role before Bogarde.

    I know the film deals with the subject of homosexuality Illegal at the time,I was wondering if anybody knows which actors turned down the Dirk Bogarde role.







    Yorkist

  7. #7
    Senior Member Country: Scotland julian_craster's Avatar
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    Jack Hawkins was one who declined (even though the film was made by a company he was financially involved with, ALLIED FILM MAKERS).....

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    I see that Peter Copley, who was in it, is still working and currently filming a TV movie - in his 93rd year!

  9. #9
    Super Moderator Country: UK batman's Avatar
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    I believe Peter Finch turned it down. It would have followed straight after his performance as Oscar Wilde and Finch didn't want to do another film with a homosexual theme.



    Bats.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Country: Great Britain Mark O's Avatar
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    Innovative Movie.......I'm sure that was Frank 'Captain Peacock' Thornton playing a Barber in it!



    Just checked IMDB and as well as Jack Hawkins, Stewart Granger and James Mason turned down the Role, it was then decided to make the character of Melville Farr younger, and therefore Dirk played the part.......with great aplomb I might add!

  11. #11
    Super Moderator Country: UK batman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark O
    Innovative Movie.......I'm sure that was Frank 'Captain Peacock' Thornton playing a Barber in it!

    Dirk played the part.......with great aplomb I might add!
    It is indeed Mr Thornton in the film .... I agree with you about Dirk, his performance is excellent, as are all the cast. A fine film and a worthy look at a age when regular people lived in fear.



    Bats.

  12. #12
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    I watched this again last week, and it is a perfect film, everything is just right. The acting,dialogue and music and ,of course, the locations. Dirk Bogarde at his considerable best, first class.

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    Senior Member Country: UK Merton Park's Avatar
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    Wonderful British Film that has passed the test of time. It's still very pognant, even today and really conveys the fears of the time. Excellent!

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    Senior Member Country: UK susanduic's Avatar
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    It certainly is an excellent film and of course a great breakthrough but surely having a rather doubtful premise. A central figure managing to overcome his naturual instincts? In the then fashionable mode, those unwilling to be 'outed' by the blackmailers were shown as cowardly 'toffs' with plums in their mouths or cowardly sniffling outsiders........There is an oblique suggestion that a good woman was a great help. On the other hand the Bogarde character did have the guts to put his head above the parapet...........

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by saduic
    It certainly is an excellent film and of course a great breakthrough but surely having a rather doubtful premise. A central figure managing to overcome his naturual instincts? In the then fashionable mode, those unwilling to be 'outed' by the blackmailers were shown as cowardly 'toffs' with plums in their mouths or cowardly sniffling outsiders........There is an oblique suggestion that a good woman was a great help. On the other hand the Bogarde character did have the guts to put his head above the parapet...........
    both Bogarde the actor and Farr the character get to put their head/s above the parapet

  16. #16
    Senior Member Country: United States theuofc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stevie boy
    I watched this again last week, and it is a perfect film, everything is just right. The acting,dialogue and music and ,of course, the locations. Dirk Bogarde at his considerable best, first class.
    Total agreement, Stevie Boy. Dirk's courage in taking on this role helped change homophobic laws in England.



    I'm watching Victim tonight in honour of Dirk's birthday today 28th March.



    Cheers,



    Barbara

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    Quote Originally Posted by theuofc
    Total agreement, Stevie Boy. Dirk's courage in taking on this role helped change homophobic laws in England.

    I'm watching Victim tonight in honour of Dirk's birthday today 28th March.

    Cheers, Barbara
    hope you enjoyed the film again Barbara, have you seen my pictures that I took last week in Chiswick?? location location


  18. #18
    Senior Member Country: United States theuofc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stevie boy
    hope you enjoyed the film again Barbara, have you seen my pictures that I took last week in Chiswick?? location location

    Hi, Stevie,



    Wonderful! I'll go look and get back with comments. Smashing idea to track down some of the locations. I wish more fans would do it. I'm always fascinated to find out where a film was actually shot. Congratulations!



    Best,



    Barbara

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    The law may have changed, but speaking from the U.S. I can tell you that there are many gay men that end up in heterosexual marriages because of peer or family pressure or religious discrimination. The themes in the movie are just as pertinent today as when it was filmed, regardless of whether the homosexual acts themselves are actually illegal.

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    Wonderful film - an all-time favourite. It was, incidentally, the first film I ever recorded on to VHS from the telly box. It still stands up so well, and, for an 'issue-led film', 'Victim' never sacrifices compelling drama for shrill preaching. Great photography, too.

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