Victim (1961)

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Synopsis: Barrister Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde) is really going places. He’s seemingly happily married to the beautiful Laura (Sylvia Syms) and is on course to becoming a Queen’s Counsel. However, when his friend “Boy” Barrett (Peter McEnery) steals a large sum of money and then commits suicide, Farr finds himself increasingly involved in the investigation being led by Detective Inspector Harris (John Barrie). It seems Barrett was being blackmailed by someone threatening to turn him in to the police for being a homosexual — and he’s not the only victim. How far will Farr go to find Barrett’s killer — and how much is he willing to reveal about himself at the risk of destroying his career, his image, and his life?

Say, folks! If you’re interested in the topic of queer images in film, have I got an event for YOU! From June 18-22, Garbo Laughs (that’s me) and Pussy Goes Grrr will be hosting the Queer Film Blogathon. Check it out now to find out how you can contribute and even win prizes. The party simply won’t be the same without you!

Basil Dearden‘s Victim broke major ground when it was released in the United Kingdom in 1961. For one thing, it was the first English-language motion picture in which the word “homosexual” had ever been used. Secondly, in its fictionalization, it brought to light what was then a major problem in England: the issue of blackmailers using the long-outdated anti-sodomy laws as a way to extort money from gay (and straight) men. Basically, if you engaged in homosexual activities (or somebody just said you did) and an extortionist found out and said they would rat you out to the police if you didn’t give them a large sum of money, you either had to fork over the cash or let them squeal on you to the cops, which likely meant you’d face a fine or prison sentence, not to mention the complete annihilation of your career and public image.

Sound familiar? Why yes, Victim covers essentially the exact same territory as 1919’s Different from the Others, only in a different time and place and with a different outcome. While Different from the Others fell on fairly deaf ears, Victim was relevant enough to contemporary audiences to start a real public debate on the British law against homosexuality, eventually leading to the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, which decriminalized homosexual acts in private between men over the age of 21. Mind you, the age of consent at the time for heterosexual acts was 16; the age of consent was not equalized for both hetero- and homosexual acts until the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act of 2000.

Bogarde’s Melville Farr is a victim no longer.

Rising to prominence as a matinee idol, Victim‘s star, Dirk Bogarde, was one of the most popular British actors of the 1950s, starring in the 1954 hit comedy Doctor in the House and the 1958 screen adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities. A consummate bachelor and rumored homosexual, it was a risk for Bogarde to take on Victim, yet one he reportedly embraced without the slightest hesitation. Not only that, but he claimed to have a direct hand in making the film as revolutionary as it was. “It was the first film in which a man said ‘I love you’ to another man,” Bogarde would later recall. “I wrote that scene in. I said, ‘There’s no point in half-measures. We either make a film about queers or we don’t.'” Although met with overt hostility from members of the film’s crew and production staff, Bogarde was proud of the ground Victim had broken. “I believe that the film made a lot of difference to a lot of people’s lives.”

Although Britain may have been ready for a film which so frankly tackled homosexuality, America – or at least its motion picture censors – was not. The Motion Picture Association of America found Victim unacceptable because of its “candid and clinical discussion of homosexuality and its overtly expressed plea for social acceptance of the homosexual to the extent that [he] be made tolerable.” Although not much could be done about the latter problem, given that it was the basis for the entire film, credit should go to director Basil Dearden for refusing to cut the forbidden words “homosexual” and “homosexuality” from the soundtrack. Victim was released in the United States without an official seal of approval from the MPAA – similar to a film today being released as “unrated” – dooming it to commercial failure. Critics, many with their own ingrained biases, refused to comment on Victim other than to note with distaste its earnest pro-homosexual message, and it achieved only mild success in the art house circuit while being overwhelmingly shunned by the general movie-going public.

Without question a historically important film and earth-shaking at the time of its release, watching it today Victim does wind up feeling sadly dated. Yet, at the same time, it’s almost too modern for me. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t have anything against the frank discussion and depiction of homosexuality in film. (I mean, I do host this blogathon.) But I think I’ve been spoiled by queer theory and using my own powers of deduction to find coded allusions in older films. It’s fun for me. Victim is kind of like receiving a puzzle that’s already been put together for you. The acting is stellar and the black-and-white cinematography is truly gorgeous, but I found myself a little bored by Victim. Still, if you’re interested in the history of queer images in cinema or even in the history of modern cultural attitudes toward homosexuality, this film is invaluable.

Victim (1961) – 3.5/5 stars

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

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Synopsis: Alcoholic ex-football player Brick Pollitt (Paul Newman) and his sexually-frustrated wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor) are in Mississippi to celebrate the 65th birthday of Brick’s father Big Daddy (Burl Ives), who’s dying of cancer. With Brick’s brother Gooper (Jack Carson) and mean-spirited sister-in-law Mae (Madeleine Sherwood) sucking up to Big Daddy and Big Momma (Judith Anderson) in order to inherit the wealthy cotton tycoon’s land, Maggie is desperate for Brick to do something to convince his father he’s worthy of taking over the family estate. However, Brick has more on his mind than his father’s will — mainly the recent suicide of his best friend, Skipper.

Say, folks! If you’re interested in the topic of queer images in film, have I got an event for YOU! From June 18-22, Garbo Laughs (that’s me) and Pussy Goes Grrr will be hosting the Queer Film Blogathon. Check it out now to find out how you can contribute and even win prizes. The party simply won’t be the same without you!

Directed by Richard Brooks for MGM in 1958, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was adapted from the 1955 Tennessee Williams play of the same name. Despite the film’s enormous commercial success and six Academy Award nominations, both Williams and its star Paul Newman expressed dissatisfaction with the play’s translation to the big screen. In fact, Williams actively encouraged people waiting in line for the film not to see the movie, because he was so personally offended at the film’s bowdlerized bastardization of his work.

Broadway has always given more leeway to “controversial” works and writers than Hollywood has, which is exactly the case with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Williams intended Cat to be his personal treatise on the destructive effects of internalized homophobia on the human psyche; but with such a taboo subject at the heart of the story, the Hays Office would only allow homosexuality to be subtextually hinted at in the screen version. Therefore, with its core principles remaining unspoken, the film does not have the same impact as the play, and the message is watered down. Brick is only allowed to hint at what the play frankly proclaims and discusses, mainly the possibility of a homosexual romance between Brick and his dead friend Skipper.


Loving Lucy Blogathon: The Big Street (1942)

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Synopsis: Hopelessly romantic busboy Augustus “Little Pinks” Pinkerton (Henry Fonda) is head-over-heels for Gloria Lyons (Lucille Ball), a gruff-and-glamorous NYC nightclub singer with big dreams and an even bigger ego. Despite how well-connected Gloria believes herself to be, when her jealous boyfriend Case Ables (Barton MacLane) pushes her down a flight of stairs, Little Pinks is the only one who comes to her rescue. Gloria’s fall leaves her partially paralyzed, and Pinks allows her to believe that her recovery is being funded by millionaire playboy Decatur Reed (William T. Orr) when in actuality the bill is being paid out of Pinks’ own shallow pocket. When there’s no money left to give and no hope left for Gloria to regain the use of her legs, Pinks moves Gloria into his meager basement apartment, despite her ungrateful protestations. Upon hearing that Pinks’ neighbor Violette (Agnes Moorehead) and her beau, competitive eater Nicely Nicely (Eugene Pallette), are moving away from the frigid winters of New York to the sunny coast of Florida, Gloria begs Pinks to take her there, despite their lack of money. Seeing no other alternative and desperate for Gloria’s approval, Pinks pushes Gloria in her wheelchair through the Holland Tunnel, and the unlikely pair alternately walks and hitchhikes their way down to Miami. Upon hearing that Decatur Reed is in town, Gloria is desperate to catch up with her old flame, but terrified that he will find out about her condition. How far is Little Pinks willing to go for the woman he loves – and who hates his guts?

This is an official entry in the Loving Lucy Blogathon, True Classics’ marvelous celebration of the incomparable Lucille Ball on this, the 100th anniversary of her birth. Click the banner to read a slew of entries on everyone’s favorite redhead, covering her work in film, television, and radio.

Yes, I know, I’m late to the party as usual, but let’s skip the excuses and get straight to the point, also as usual. Directed by Irving Reis for RKO Pictures in 1942, The Big Street was scripted by Leonard Spigelgass from a short story by Damon Runyon. Despite some tension on the set – husband Desi Arnaz was concerned about Lucy starting up again with ex-boyfriend Henry Fonda, so he spent a lot of time prowling around during filming – Lucy would later name The Big Street as her favorite of her film performances. Given this fact and given what a unique – and good! – movie it is, I’m consistently surprised that The Big Street isn’t more well known or remembered. It’s definitely my favorite of Lucy’s films, as well, which is why I jumped at the chance to review it for this blogathon celebrating the Queen of Comedy’s 100th birthday. (more…)

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

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Synopsis: When Sydney drag queen Tick (Hugo Weaving) is invited to perform at a tourist resort in Australia’s Northern Territory, he invites fellow entertainers Adam (Guy Pearce) and Bernadette (Terence Stamp) to join him. Traveling on the cheap, the three glamorous queens must cross the unforgiving Outback in a decidedly un-glamorous dilapidated tour bus, which flamboyant Adam soon paints a vibrant lavender and christens “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” But out in the high desert, the trio experience the perils of both rural homophobia and mechanical malfunctions. Taking on helpful mechanic Bob (Bill Hunter), the troupe finally make it to their destination, where even more shocking surprises await them.

Here on Garbo Laughs, I’m dedicating the entire month of June to the topic of Queer Cinema (LGBTQs, and depictions thereof, in classic film). This includes reviewing one relevant film from each decade from the 1910s to the 1990s. This is all leading up to my Queer Film Blogathon on June 27th. Won’t you join me in celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month by contributing a post or two (or three)?

My final film review for the Queer Film Blogathon is of a movie I’m going to have a helluva time being objective about. I’ve mentioned before my nearly-obsessive (at one point it was definitely obsessive) love for Stephan Elliott‘s Priscilla in passing, noting that I’ve seen the film close to, if not more than, 200 times. This is the movie that got me interested in movies. I was 12 or 13 the first time I saw it, having previously given no indication that it’d be the type of movie I’d be drawn to; but somehow, I was absolutely entranced. That first summer, I bought the film on VHS and found myself often watching it three times in a single day. I found a copy of the script online and printed out the entire thing to memorize. Once, when I was napping on the couch, my mother happened to stumble across the film playing on television and put it on, and I woke myself up by reciting the dialogue in my sleep. So yeah, I’d say I’m a pretty big Priscilla fan. (more…)

The Christine Jorgensen Story (1970)

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Synopsis: Even as a small child, George Jorgensen, Jr. (John Hansen) can tell he’s different from the other boys. His parents sense it, too, and their introverted son serves as a constant source of worry. After a stint in the Army, George finds new confidence in himself as he excels in his career as a fashion photographer. But something still feels wrong. Gradually, George comes to realize that he is in fact a she – a woman trapped in a man’s body. Without his parents’ knowledge, George travels to Denmark to undergo sex reassignment surgery. He stays with his kindly Aunt Thora (Joan Thompkins) who supports George in his efforts to become Christine. When handsome reporter Tom Crawford (Quinn K. Redeker) comes knocking wanting to write Christine’s story, Christine finds more than a confidante. But could it be love?

Here on Garbo Laughs, I’m dedicating the entire month of June to the topic of Queer Cinema (LGBTQs, and depictions thereof, in classic film). This includes reviewing one relevant film from each decade from the 1910s to the 1990s. This is all leading up to my Queer Film Blogathon on June 27th. Won’t you join me in celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month by contributing a post or two (or three)?

We should first get it out of the way that this Irving Rapper telling of the Christine Jorgensen “story” has little if anything to do with the real events of Christine Jorgensen‘s life. In actuality, Jorgensen was the first well-known person to have sex reassignment surgery, but not the first person period as the movie implies. She was indeed in the Army and later became a successful photographer as George Jorgensen, Jr. When she traveled abroad in search of doctors to perform her genital reconstruction surgery, she had already begun rehabilitative hormonal therapy on her own and was on her way to Sweden when she stopped off in Denmark to visit relatives and ended up under the care of the hilariously-named Dr. Christian Hamburger. He was the one to perform her initial surgeries – although she would not receive a full vaginoplasty until the surgery became available in the United States several years later – and it was after Dr. Hamburger that Christine named herself, not after some long-dead cousin as in the film. She was engaged twice in her life, but the reporter and love interest Tom Crawford was apparently an invention for the movie. The details – such as George’s near-assault at the hands of his homosexual boss and humiliating experience with a female sex worker while in the Army – are also cinematic fabrications, as far as we know. Just a reminder to take every “true-to-life” biopic with a grain of salt. (more…)