Plot: What’s it about?
Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde) is a married man who works as a lawyer, so he has a lot to lose if misfortune knocked at his door. This happens when a man claims to have photos of Farr involved in sexual relations with another man, the kind of materials that could land him in serious trouble, not to mention ruining his life. As there are laws against the act of sodomy, it is considered all but illegal to be homosexual in Britain, so if the photos were leaked to the masses, Farr would find himself under intense criticism. In addition, he would probably lose his wife and his career, which means he would be left with nothing and little chance to start over unless he moves himself far away from his current residence. The practice of blackmail using photos of homosexual acts has become common however, leading Farr to find some other victims of this blackmailer’s threats. After he tracks down some of the others, including learning of one’s suicides, Farr decides to steady himself and call the blackmailer’s bluff. He is helped by a police detective named Harris (John Barrie), who despises blackmail and feels the sodomy laws only encourage such actions. But as he prepares to face his critics, with his life in the balance, is he braced to handle whatever consequences arise?
Although Victim was the first British film to tackle the subject of homosexuality, it is by no means a token picture. Instead, we have an excellent movie that happens to deal with a controversial issue and it handles the issue with immense skill. Back in 1961 when Victim was released, the topic of homosexuality was in the headlines because of suggestions (via The Wolfenden Report) to decriminalize the lifestyle. Even so, it was a substantial career risk for then matinee idol Dirk Bogarde to take on the role of a gay man, let alone to do so in a picture that seemed to promote the acceptance of this alternative lifestyle. But he took the part and gave an amazing performance, while his costars also came through with terrific efforts. While Victim will be always be remembered for its bold approach of the material, its also just a plain good movie, subject matter aside. The characters are well drawn and developed, the writing is superb down to the minute details, and the tension is masterful, a fine example of a taut thriller. I think the black & white visuals are also a highlight, with lots of dark shadows and such, giving Victim the kind of appearance you’d see in a classic film noir picture. Home Vision’s disc is basic, but looks good and has a couple extras, so if you’re interested, Victim is more than recommended.
Even in more recent pictures, it seems that whenever a gay character is involved, the performance comes off as cartoonish, or stereotypical. I mean, The Birdcage might be a humorous movie, but its portrayals of homosexual characters is way off the mark, unless all gay men are over the top and insane. So it seems all the more impressive that Dirk Bogarde, in a bold role that shook British audiences, is able to play a gay man and do so in a skilled fashion, so we have a deep, complex character. Yes, one of the important facets of the character is the fact that he’s gay, but unlike most homosexual characters in cinema, there’s a lot more to Melville Farr than his sexual preferences. Bogarde is simply excellent in Victim, handling a risky role with ease and carrying the picture on his back. The rest of the elements seem to fall into place around him, but without Bogarde, Victim wouldn’t be as effective. Other films with Bogarde include The Damned, Modesty Blaise, Damn the Defiant, and The Fixer. The cast also includes Sylvia Sims (East of Sudan, Amazons of Rome), Dennis Price (Theatre of Blood, Vampyros Lesbos), and Peter McEnery (The Mark of Satan, The Other People).
Video: How does it look?
Victim is presented in a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The print has some wear evident, such as nicks and some grain, but I think it looks clean, at least cleaner than I expected it to look. The flaws never distract and the image is never too soft, so I don’t think there’s a lot to complain about there. The film’s superb black & white visuals are well presented all around, even the darkest shadows seem crisp and refined. The black levels provide ample detail when needed, as well as cover of darkness when called for, simply excellent contrast performance. Not much else we could want here, a nice looking transfer from Home Vision.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included mono track offers a solid experience, but of course, lacks in terms of dynamic presence. I like the music used in this film a lot and while it seems a little dated, it sounds terrific in this mix, so I am very pleased. There’s not much to discuss in the realm of sound effects, but all the needed elements seem in fine enough form here. No complaints with the dialogue either, which comes across as clean and crisp at all times. Not the most memorable audio effort, but it more than does the material justice, which is what counts.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes an extensive interview with Bogarde, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.