A groundbreaking British suspense film about Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde), a closeted gay barrister who puts his marriage and his thriving career at risk when he takes on a ring of blackmailers targeting gay men. Directed by Basil Dearden of Sapphire and The League of Gentlemen.
Originally released in 1961, six years before homosexuality was decriminalised in the United Kingdom, the film was highly controversial, earned an "X" rating from the British censors (modern releases have been labelled "PG"), and was for a time banned in the United States.
Notable as the first film to use the term "homosexual," thanks to Dirk Bogarde, who refused Basil Dearden's suggestion of "inverts" as a euphemism and rewrote several scenes himself. It's worth noting that Bogarde himself was gay, and considered Victim an extremely personal project.
Victim has been widely credited with impacting British support of gay rights. None other than Lord Arran, who introduced the legislation repealing the Criminal Offences Act, wrote Bogarde praising the film as helping to create a climate where such reform was possible. Vito Russo, author of The Celluloid Closet, singled Victim out as the first film he watched which didn't make him ashamed to be gay.
This film contains examples of:
- Armored Closet Gay: The chief blackmailer (wearing leather, having nude art in his flat) is strongly implied to be this.
- Blackmail: Gays are being blackmailed for their illegal homosexual activities.
- Bury Your Gays: "Boy" Barret kills himself rather than reveal his lover's involvement with him, as it could ruin his life and career.
- Cool Shades: Youth's goggles make him look badass.
- Crusading Lawyer: Mel morphs into one after the death of Barrett.
- Decoy Protagonist: Boy Barrett seems to be the hero of the story but after his suicide the focus shifts to barrister Farr.
- The Dog Was the Mastermind: The man behind the blackmail ring is... Miss Benham, Doe's secretary who was innocuously introduced early on. Sandy Youth acts as her dragon.
- Gay Aesop: The anti-homophobia message dropped like an anvil so heavily, it is part of the reason homosexual relations were decriminalized in Britain.
- Gayngst: The film is positively overflowing with gayngst. This is justified in that it was made when male homosexuality was still a criminal offense in Britain, while the whole plot involves gay men being blackmailed for the fact as a result. The film was a plea to end crimiminalization so they wouldn't undergo this.
- Gayngst-Induced Suicide: "Boy" Barrett's suicide. He dies to protect the man he loves: knowing he'll be questioned by police, he hangs himself in his prison cell to avoid revealing a distinguished lawyer's involvement with him.
- Get Back in the Closet: Very much in effect in the original judgement of the British film censors. One of their four main reasons for giving the film an X rating was Melville's simple statement "I wanted him."
- Get Out!: Line said by Harold Doe when evicting Barrett from his bookshop.
- Heteronormative Crusader:
- Sergeant Bridie goes on a rant against homosexuality, opposing its decriminalization. It doesn't stop him from pursuing blackmailers extorting closeted gay men though.
- The barkeeper is clear on not liking homosexuality at all, though he still amiably serves gay men.
- Miss Benham is motivated not just by profit while blackmailing gay men, but intense homophobia, saying they deserve it for their behavior.
- Incompatible Orientation: Laura Farr can't stop loving her husband, despite her gradual realization that he can never return her feelings.
- Motive Rant: Miss Benham gives one at the end before being arrested by the police.
- Noble Bigot with a Badge: Sergeant Bridie is outspokenly homophobic, but that doesn't stop him from doing his utmost to bring the blackmailing ring to justice.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Calloway the actor is an expy of Noël Coward.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Barkeeping: The barkeeper at the pub is seen cleaning glasses while interacting with the patrons.
- Red Herring: There's a lengthy subplot involving an older blind man and his partner which implies they're involved in the blackmail ring. Turns out they're just minor swindlers operating their own, separate racket.
- Shout-Out: At one point, the Police Inspector says that, as police, they cannot be dealing with the Bill Sikes of the world all the time.
- There Should Be a Law: Inverted-the film's clear message is there should not be one criminalizing homosexual relations, as it only leads to gay men getting blackmailed as they're forcibly stuck in the closet.