The great breakthrough film for gay people was undoubtedly 1962’s Victim, staring Dirk Bogarde. It was a British film, of course. Hollywood was still under the sway of the studios’ strict censorship code that banned, among a host of other issues, any sympathetic depiction of homosexuality. Victim tells the story of Melville Farr who sets out to avenge his friend who, faced with blackmail, kills himself.
In a number of ways, Victim was a trailblazer. It was unambiguous in is depiction of a homosexual. No coy, coded references here. Secondly, the homosexual characters are presented as respectable and middle-class, with high moral values. Farr is better than his cowardly and often self-loathing friends, who want nothing more than to stay safely in the closet (as we would later say), but even their timidity is presented as understandable. To the extent that there is fear and misery in homosexual lives, the film shows this to be an effect of unjust laws and social prejudice.
Dirk Bogarde, later to reveal his own homosexuality, was very keen to make this film a Statement. He himself wrote in the scene where a man for the first time ever on screen, tells another man ‘I love you’, arguing that either they were making a film about queers or they weren’t.
Not surprisingly, sections of the press were not happy about all this. But for camp men all over the world (the film was eventually released in the US and Australia), it offered a remarkably supportive view of their condition.
Brought to you by the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives