It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Recent critics find "Victim" timid in its treatment of homosexuality, but viewed in the context of Great Britain in 1961, it's a film of courage. How much courage can be gauged by the fact that it was originally banned from American screens simply because it used the word "homosexual." To be gay was a crime in the United States and the U.K., and the movie used the devices of film noir and thriller to make its argument, labeling laws against homosexuality "the blackmailer's charter." Indeed, 90 percent of all British blackmail cases had homosexuals as victims.
The defense of homosexuality was not a popular topic at the box office when the film was made, and director Basil Dearden tried to broaden the film's appeal by making it into a thriller and a police procedural. There is no sex on (or anywhere near) the screen, and while the hero is homosexual by nature, there is doubt that he has ever experienced gay sex. The plot hinges on anonymous blackmailers who collect regular payments from wealthy and famous gays, and on the decision of a prominent barrister to stand up to them.
This man is Melville Farr, who at the young age of 40 has just been offered the opportunity to become a Queen's Counselor. He will lose that appointment, his career and his marriage if he's identified in the press as gay, and yet he decides that someone must stand up to the blackmailers to demonstrate the injustice of the law. As he tracks the blackmailers through a network of their victims, the movie follows him through the London of the time -- its courts of law, police stations, pubs, clubs, barbershops, used bookstores, cafes, drawing rooms, car dealerships -- showing how ordinary life is affected in countless ways by the fact that many of its citizens must keep their natures a secret.
Farr was played by Dirk Bogarde, as a smooth, skilled barrister who projects a surface of strength and calm. He only raises his voice two or three times in the movie, but we sense an undercurrent of anger: He finds it wrong that homosexuality is punished, wrong that gays cannot go to the police to complain of blackmail, wrong that hypocrisy flourishes. There is a moment in the movie when he unexpectedly hits someone who has just insulted him, and it comes as a revelation: Beneath his silky persona is a wound, a resentment, and a fierce determination to act at last on his convictions.