This is one of my favorite films, providing Dirk Bogarde possibly one of his two or three most intense roles. If it is true (& it's a big if) that Victim is no longer thematically courageous like it was for 1961, it remains a kind of latter-day noir mystery of considerable merit, a beautifully acted tale of death & blackmail, with black & white cinematography as artful as it gets.
Bogarde plays Melvin Farr, an English barrister, upstanding in the community, with a beautiful wife (Sylvia Sims in her finest role), in all probability headed for a judgeship. He also has one hell of a secret. And blackmailers have found it out.
Melvin lives in a time when being homosexual was actually illegal. In England, laws against homosexuality remained on the books until 1966. To be openly gay would inevitably lose a man his social & professional standing, if not worse. How Melvin faces his situation is grim & verges on the heroic, but is never overplayed.
The role was risky for Bogarde on many levels, not least because he & his acting manager were longterm lovers, & he still hoped for a Hollywood career. The parallel between his decision to take the role at all, & the decisions made by the character he played, surely added to the depth of the performance. And Syms as his wife Laura keeps up with or even exceeds Bogarde's great performance.
There are a few didactic passages of dialogue that measure "all sides" of the arguments for & against the "crime" of homosexuality, lending the film a stage-play feeling here & there. These passages occasionally have greater historical significance than dramatic effect, but are played true to the era & are realistic. And the film's socio-political seriousness is by no means top-heavy; this seriousness upraises rather than interfers with the timelessness of the overall suspense-thriller.
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