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Monday, 13 August 2012

Classic Film Review: Victim (1961)

This is truly a ground-breaking film for the simple fact that it is reportedly the first English language film to use the word 'homosexual'. It stars Dirk Bogarde as married barrister Meville Farr who becomes embroiled in a blackmail case after a young man Barrett (Peter McEnery) commits suicide when he believes pictures of him and Farr together are going to be exposed. The beginning of the film concentrates on Barrett's escape from the police and Farr's wilful ignorance of his attempts to contact him, believing that Barrett is trying to blackmail him. This mistake compounds the guilt Farr feels on hearing of Barrett's suicide and he is determined to unmask the blackmailer and seek out other victims.

It feels as though the preamble (Barrett's escape) goes on a little longer than necessary but it does introduce the main characters and suspects. After that, it settles down nicely to become a very tense film, full of hidden meanings and lives. First amongst these is Farr himself and relationship with his wife Laura (Sylvia Syms). Perhaps my main criticism of this film is Syms's performance. A combination of poor dialogue (the dialogue suited the male characters but not her) and a restrained acting style which felt wrong in the situation, served to make her distinctly unmemorable in this film. I can only assume the role didn't suit her because I was more than impressed by her performance in Conspiracy of Hearts (1960).

Dirk Bogarde outshines himself as Melville Farr. He is a successful man with a happy home life who has tried to reject the desires which have plagued him. He has been completely honest with his wife but is prepared to sacrifice both her and his career to do the right thing. There are also some stellar performances from the rest of the cast, particularly John Barrie as the detective dealing with the blackmail case and Norman Bird as Harold. Special mention has to go to Mavis Villiers who plays Madge, an easy-going model who seems to be friends with half of the gay crowd in London and is perfectly comfortable with it. It's a shame to discover she starred in comparatively few films.

This is a dark film with some excellent performances throughout. While I think the scenes between Farr and his wife could've been better, I have few gripes with the rest of this film.

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