Victim (1961)

Before I write about Victim, I'd just like to make a few points about this blog, and how much time I spend (or don't spend) on Dirk Bogarde's sexuality, and why.

I haven't yet completed all of Dirk Bogarde's autobiographical books, but I think it is safe to say that he spent his entire life publicly denying the fact that he was gay. After he passed away, family members and friends put any speculation to rest and confirmed that the man he lived with for most of his life - Anthony Forwood - was his partner. Because he was so diligent in hiding this, because he denied this part of his life in his books and interviews, I feel strange discussing it here, as if I am in some way betraying the public image that he worked so hard to build.

Additionally, I personally don't think that a person's sexuality has any bearing on their art, and as an audience we should only consider it as a tiny fraction of who they are. That so many Dirk Bogarde sites and pages I've found seem to concentrate on his sexuality, I think, is a disservice to his outstanding talent and remarkable career.

And lastly, I am colorblind when it comes to sexuality. I don't think anyone should be treated differently because they are straight or gay. Much like you wouldn't refer to Clark Gable as a "white actor", you also wouldn't refer to him as a "straight actor". He's simply, an actor. So it should be for gay actors as well. They are just actors.

On occasion, I've received comments on this blog, saying things to the effect of "such a great actor, it's a shame he was gay." Perhaps this is partly why Dirk Bogarde never wanted the public to know. I mean, come on! It's like saying "such a great actor, it's a shame he didn't eat broccoli." It's just a stupid thing to say.

So because I think Dirk would prefer it this way, and because I do not think it relates much to his films, I don't concentrate on that part of his life on this blog. Except for this once.

Knowing what we do now, we can say it was amazingly brave and daring of Dirk Bogarde to take the starring role in Victim, a groundbreaking movie from 1961 that tells the story of a barrister, Melville Farr, who sacrifices his family and career to track down the blackmailer that drove his gay lover to suicide.

Three other films dealing with homosexuality were released around the same time -- Advise and Consent (1962), The Children's Hour (1961) and The Best Man (1964). None of these films were as raw, stark and brutally honest as Victim. While there are scenes in The Best Man that imply Cliff Robertson's character was gay, they were still dancing around the subject, afraid to even utter the word "homosexual". Victim confronts the topic head on -- and more importantly, confronts the archaic laws in England which made homosexuality a crime. In fact, this film brought such attention to the anti-gay laws, that it is credited with helping to overturn them.

You can hear Dirk discussing Victim about 3/4 of the way into this interview --

(copyright The Dirk Bogarde Estate)

Dirk Bogarde gave another interview as part of the publicity for Victim, that I found especially interesting and insightful, considering his own love life. I purchased this on ebay and scanned it so that you can read it. (click images to view larger)

I've read many confused articles about this time period in his career, in which some people say that Victim's controversial subject matter cost him his reputation as a matinee idol and giant film star. But this simply isn't true -- one need only look at some of his lighter roles that followed Victim, like the last installment in the Doctor series, Doctor in Distress, to see that his popularity remained. And Victim marked the first page in a new chapter of Dirk Bogarde's career that included a series of edgy, new-wave films like Darling, The Servant and The Mind Benders, which, I would argue, are among his best.

Sadly, I think that Victim is still as edgy and avante-garde today as it was fifty years ago. In a perfect world, we should have been able to look back on this bigoted time period as old news by now. But like Dirk Bogarde and his character Melville Farr, many people still feel the need to hide their homosexuality as if it was something to be ashamed of -- and being "outed" still seems to be something that can ruin a career. While Victim did help to make homosexuality more acceptable (and legal) in the UK, here in the United States homosexuals are still denied many basic civil rights that are granted to every other citizen. I know that most people can't be swayed on this topic, but if anyone is sitting on the fence, I'm sure that watching Victim would help them to come to their senses.


Millie said...

Great review, Kate.

Peter McEnery is in this, right?!

Kendra said...

Great write-up, and I agree with your opinion about the whole closeted actors thing. People often make similar comments (which don't seem to have much factual evidence to back them up, in this particular case) on my site about Laurence Olivier.

Sadly, many British actors and artists were tossed in jail for being openly gay, including John Gielgud.

Anyway, I haven't seen Victim, but I'll add it to my Netflix queue!

PS, that ebay article :S

Kate Gabrielle said...

Millie - Thanks :) Yup, but he's really only in the first 20 minutes or so.

Kendra- Thank you! That's especially strange about Laurence Olivier, considering his marriage to Vivien Leigh is so well known.

I really think you'd enjoy Victim, let me know what you think when you watch it!

Isn't the article unsettling? :-\

Mercurie said...

I think you are absolutely right about why Sir Dirk Bogarde hid his sexuality. In England in the Fifties and the Sixties it would have destroyed his career. He would never have been cast as a leading man, let alone a leading man in romantic roles again. Even today, in both the UK and the US, I think a revelation of homosexuality would seriously hurt a leading man's career. For instance, if Matthew McConaughey announced tomorrow he was gay, I suspect we would see him in no more action movies or romantic comedies.

I think this is a real shame, as I don't think any artist should be judged on the basis of his sexuality. One of my favourite writers (Clive Barker), one of my favourite singers (Rob Halford), and many of my favourite actors (including Sir Dirk) are all gay. I don't think it is right they should be held in any lesser regard than straight artists, anymore than I should be held in lower regard as a writer because I am straight! Sexuality just shouldn't matter in art.

Andi B. Goode said...

Just as Mercurie said, coming out can still 'ruin' an actor's career. Apparently it's less believable for a gay actor to play a straight, romantic lead? Yet, straight actors are praised so often for being brave in taking gay roles? Ugh. UGH! It gets me so annoyed. Have you seen 'Gay Hollywood - The Last Taboo' - it talks a lot about it in that. It's not just about classic cinema (though I think they talk about Rock Hudson and Cary Grant but I could be getting confused with The Celluloid Closet).
I'm a fence sitter when it comes to someone's sexuality not affecting their art - I think it depends on a lot of things. Because, just like every tiny detail of a person, it changes their life experience and I think every kind of art is affected by the artist's life experience. But it doesn't mean it's anyone else's business (though I wish more celebrities would come out, not because it's my business but just because I think there need to be more out and proud celebrities) nor that it's the only thing that will have a bearing on someone's art.

This is a great review, by the way! I'm glad you enjoyed the film.

-Andi x
P.S. Sometimes I find myself liking people better when I find out they're gay. Heh. And I'm feeling a bit under the weather so I'm not entirely sure what I've written.

Raquelle said...

I'm so proud of you for writing on this topic and I admire that you respect Bogarde's wish to keep this part of his life private. I don't agree with you on the point that a person's sexuality is only a tiny part of who they are. I think it's bigger than that. It's very much at the core of our values and is an important driving force in the decisions we make in life.

I agree with Mercurie and Andi B. Goode. It's still possible to ruin one's acting career when one comes out of the closet. People today don't necessarily want to see a gay actor playing a straight male leading role in a romantic comedy or drama. It's sad but that's the way it is unfortunately.

Great post Kate as usual.

Kate Gabrielle said...

Terry- I completely agree about the Matthew McConaughey scenario, and I think that's such a shame! It's called acting for a reason- you play a part. I think when it comes down to it, it's all about prejudice and people being uncomfortable with someone who isn't "like them".

Andi- I think I've seen The Celluloid Closet (not sure if that's it.. it was a documentary TCM aired during their gay images in film series a few years ago) but I know exactly what you mean. I just read on the Huffington Post a few weeks ago that someone wrote a scathing article about Sean Hayes from Will & Grace doing an awful job playing a straight person in a play. The author was gay and was apparently making the case that gay people can't play straight, but straight can play gay. That double standard drives me nuts. Two words for this guy: Rock Hudson! ERGH!

Raquelle- Thank you :)

I actually totally agree with you. I think I just (as usual) misworded my post. I meant that as an audience, we should only consider a person's sexuality as a small part of what makes them. A lot of homosexual actors get tagged as "gay actor" (search for Dirk Bogarde on google and you'll see what I mean) whereas that wasn't their defining personality trait -- they were so much more than just gay. I know that personally it is a huge part of who we are. It just shouldn't be the defining characteristic just because you're gay and not straight. Like I said, nobody would ever define Clark Gable as a straight actor, his sexuality was just considered one part of the overall man. But when you search for Dirk Bogarde, you'd think that's the only thing anyone knows about the man, when it's only one (not small... wrong word!) part of who he was. I'll go fix that in my text now, but I just wanted to clarify it here first :)

Nicole said...

Excellent review Kate. I really wish that this film wasn't so relevant today but unfortunately today's society still has a problem with a man or woman liking the same sex. I hope that the homophobes out there, can watch this movie, and truly understand that we are all human beings and we should all be treated respectfully and equally. Good for you, as well, for respecting Dirk's reason for keeping his sexuality private. Not many people, including some of his fans would have done that, so I appreciate reading that from you. :)

Kate said...

Thank you so much, Nicole! And I completely agree with you, this film really shouldn't be relevant anymore and it's an awful shame that it is!!