VICTIM(Rank, 1961)—Social melodrama. Director: Basil Dearden; Producer: Michael Relph; Script: Janet Green and John McCormick; Cinematography: Otto Heller; Music: Philip Green; Cast: Dirk Bogarde (Melville Fair), Sylvia Syms (Laura Fair), Dennis Price (Calloway), Anthony Nicholls (Lord Fullbrook), Peter Copley (Paul Mandrake), Norman Bird (Harold Doe), Peter McEnery (Jack Barrett), Donald Churchill (Eddy Stone), Derren Nesbit (Sandy Youth), John Barrie (Detective Inspector Harris), John Cairney (Bridie), Alan MacNaughtan (Scott Hankin), Nigel Stock (Phip), and Noel Howlett (Patterson).
When Detective Inspector Harris tells embattled lawyer Melville Farr that the British law, which criminalizes male homosexuality, is the “blackmailer's charter,” he is spelling out the central theme in Victim. The film is, paradoxically, both courageous and flawed. Brave in openly dramatizing the intolerable situation faced by homosexual men in Britain at that time through their vulnerability to blackmail. Flawed by depicting the central character, Melville Farr, as a married gay man and as a nonpracticing homosexual. Thus, the film compromises, or weakens, the injustice it seeks to expose by making Melville perform the function of the “hero” by investigating the death of Jack Barrett, a young man who was infatuated with him. While Barrett, and all of the other homosexuals shown in the film, remain at the level of victim, Melville, through his ability to deny his sexual impulses, is elevated to a different (higher?) status. In a crucial scene late in the film, Melville admits to his wife that although he desired Barrett, he did not act on it. Melville's denial of his sexual desires also makes possible a reconciliation between Laura and Melville—if he had sex with Barrett, this would not have been available as a viable ending.
Melville's heroic status is enhanced by his decision to destroy his legal career by testifying against the vicious blackmail ring, conducted by the psychotic Sandy Youth and Miss Benham (who is described in the film as “half avenging angel and half peeping torn”). Indeed, the film's depiction of Youth and Benham