The Blackmailer's Charter
How do you judge "Victim" when watched now over 50 years after it was released? I ask because "Victim" is historically a very significant movie because of it being a movie which tackles the subject of homosexuality at a time when homosexuals were regularly arrested. That is not the only reason because it also features several actors risking their careers by appearing in a movie which sees them playing homosexuals. And then there is also the fact that "Victim" is also a fascinating thriller revolving around homosexuals being blackmailed in fear of them being exposed.
Barrister Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde - The Singer Not the Song) fears he is going to be blackmailed by a young man called Barrett (Peter McEnery) and so refuses to take any of his calls. But Barrett doesn't want to blackmail him he wants his help and is forced to go on the run as the police are after him for financial fraud. But it soon comes to the police's attention that Barrett was being blackmailed and when Farr finds out he sets about tracking down other men who are being blackmailed as he like them has had homosexual relations and fears someone will be coming after him. But by pursuing those doing the blackmail not only puts Melville's marriage at risk but also his promising career.
It would be wrong for me to tell you how significant "Victim" is as whilst I am well aware of how things were back in the 60s for homosexuals and equally aware of the risk actors took to appear in this movie I wasn't born till after it was made. But lets just say it is very clear that this was a ground breaking movie, telling the story in such away that it makes you well aware of the exploitation that homosexuals were victim to because of the law. It also highlights the perversity of the law for persecuting homosexuality as abnormal but ignoring other things which were abnormal. And I could go on because I am sure that "Victim" speaks of a significant lot more for those who lived through and truly understand this era.
But for me "Victim" is a movie and as a movie reviewer I can appreciate the subject but need to judge it as a movie. Well it is a very good movie as well with a first half which keeps us in the dark as we watch young Barrett go on the run unaware of why the police are after him. It is cleverly done because you half expect him to be the blackmailer and then we discover that he isn't and his crime is something else and in fact he is a victim of blackmail and not the only one. It is an exceptionally good set up using the sparse detail to suck us in to try and work out what is going on.
Then when we become aware of what is going on we get the switch as it becomes more of a drama than a thriller. We still have the sort of guessing game over who is behind the blackmail but we see how the arrest and death of Barrett affects various people, whilst Farr tries to track down others who are being exploited. Seeing how those being blackmailed are frightened with no one to turn to is surprisingly powerful but then so is how Farr's wife deals with the revelation surrounding him and his relationship with Barrett.
Now I keep on mentioning that it is basically hard to judge "Victim" out of context and that is certainly the case when it comes to lead actor Dirk Bogarde. I say this because at the time Bogarde was a heart throb and to take a role which saw him playing a lawyer who had a homosexual affair was a big risk. Plus now in hindsight we also know that Bogarde in real life was in a homosexual relationship which at the time he kept secret. In many ways that makes it an all the more convincing and powerful performance as a man who finally feels like he needs to make a stand. There are other good performances especially from various actors who took equally big risks playing characters with homosexual secrets but it is Sylvia Syms as Farr's wife who steals many a scene as she deals with the revelations of his secret affair.
What this all boils down to is that "Victim" is a powerful movie and one which is still a compelling thriller despite being over 50 years old. But in truth "Victim" is more of a significant movie when it comes to cinema due to the subject matter and to fully appreciate it I believe you need to have lived through the era to really comprehend its significance and how brave it was.