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Dirk Bogarde in VICTIM (1961)

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Thanks to TCM for airing VICTIM today. It had been a while since I'd seen the film broadcast on cable. It certainly is worth lauding when TCM chooses to show the pre-censored version with the 100-minute running time.

 

I was reading about the film. Apparently, James Mason had been offered the role of Melville Farr, the lawyer. He declined, whatever his reasons may have been, before Dirk Bogarde eventually took the part. Not sure if Mason would have been better. Bogarde is simply great here. And it seems to bring a bit more relevance to the proceedings that a homosexual actor is the lead, not a heterosexual or bisexual actor playing gay on screen.

 

I think the noir-ish camera work aids the story considerably.  

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Thanks to TCM for airing VICTIM today. It had been a while since I'd seen the film broadcast on cable. It certainly is worth lauding when TCM chooses to show the pre-censored version with the 100-minute running time.

 

I was reading about the film. Apparently, James Mason had been offered the role of Melville Farr, the lawyer. He declined, whatever his reasons may have been, before Dirk Bogarde eventually took the part. Not sure if Mason would have been better. Bogarde is simply great here. And it seems to bring a bit more relevance to the proceedings that a homosexual actor is the lead, not a heterosexual or bisexual actor playing gay on screen.

 

I think the noir-ish camera work aids the story considerably.  

 

First time I saw this movie and I'm glad I did.   Bogarde was excellent and I enjoyed the story.   

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First time I saw this movie and I'm glad I did.   Bogarde was excellent and I enjoyed the story.   

Yes, the programmers quietly put it in there, after GASLIGHT and LURED, before the Maisie marathon. It had been a long time since TCM previously broadcast it.

 

I did some more reading about the film and the laws against homosexuality in England at the time (the 1960s). While it could be prosecuted, one source I read said prosecutions were rare. But the blackmail element was always present and probably still is. In fact, I don't think striking down that law is going to change married men trying to hide gay affairs on the down-low, or the possibility of these men still being blackmailed. It's really a societal and personal issue of acceptance (not about affairs, but about homosexuality), regardless of what the law happens to state at the time.

 

Also, I wanted to comment about the scene where Bogarde's character confesses all to his wife, played by Sylvia Syms. I know they had to compress it all into a three or four minute scene, but the dialogue seems quite stilted. I really don't think her initial reaction would be whether her husband had feelings for the boy. I think it would be more initial outrage at being left in the dark so long, especially after the boy was calling and re-involving himself in their lives. Plus, I think she was a little too quick to accept what had happened. Eventually, she would have to come around, but during those first moments when he was telling her everything, I think she should have been a bit more shocked, even if she had subconsciously knew these truths about her husband's behavior. That scene did not play right for me, despite the excellent acting from both of them.

 

Can you imagine what Hitchcock would have done with this script...?

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I assume people watched VICTIM when it aired recently. It made the top ten most-searched titles today:

 

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You really have to give Dirk Bogarde credit for playing this role and, generally, it's a fine film. In a more open era it's now easier to pick it apart and find things to object to, but there's no denying how brave it was for a mainstream film at the time. There's a little bit of is-he-or-isn't-he? whereby the filmmakers try to have it both ways with the central character. He had previously confessed feelings for a man to his wife but had supposedly put it behind him at the time of their marriage. His feelings for the victim of blackmail were supposedly never acted on, so in a way it confirms the old chestnut about it being a "phase" and therefore a choice. Regardless, it's a good look at homosexuality across a broad spectrum of society, looking into places where I'm sure many viewers of the time wouldn't have expected to find it. The idea that gay people were more than just seedy lowlifes was a very real step forward.

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You really have to give Dirk Bogarde credit for playing this role and, generally, it's a fine film. In a more open era it's now easier to pick it apart and find things to object to, but there's no denying how brave it was for a mainstream film at the time. There's a little bit of is-he-or-isn't-he? whereby the filmmakers try to have it both ways with the central character. He had previously confessed feelings for a man to his wife but had supposedly put it behind him at the time of their marriage. His feelings for the victim of blackmail were supposedly never acted on, so in a way it confirms the old chestnut about it being a "phase" and therefore a choice. Regardless, it's a good look at homosexuality across a broad spectrum of society, looking into places where I'm sure many viewers of the time wouldn't have expected to find it. The idea that gay people were more than just seedy lowlifes was a very real step forward.

 

Couldn't he have been bisexual?   Is that a choice?    To me the film was realistic based on the people I have known.   

 

So to me the other men being blackmailed were clearly homosexual (and even made statements that it was a desire that was innate). but he was sincerely 'confused'.     I just don't view being confused as making a statement, one way or the other,  with regards to the 'born that way versus choice' debate.     Shouldn't we accept that some people are sincerely confused?    Otherwise we fall into the same trap of 'one size fits all' that conventional society has used since the dawn of man.

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Couldn't he have been bisexual?   Is that a choice?    To me the film was realistic based on the people I have known.   

 

So to me the other men being blackmailed were clearly homosexual (and even made statements that it was a desire that was innate). but he was sincerely 'confused'.     I just don't view being confused as making a statement, one way or the other,  with regards to the 'born that way versus choice' debate.     Shouldn't we accept that some people are sincerely confused?    Otherwise we fall into the same trap of 'one size fits all' that conventional society has used since the dawn of man.

Yes. He could have been. My point was that the filmmakers fudged it a little by not making it clear. I think the lack of clarity was intentional on their part so that they could enter "the world of the homosexual", but also retreat from it by not completely committing their protagonist. It makes sense for a film of that time which wanted to find an audience to offer them a lead character who wasn't totally transgressive in the terms of that era, but it also seems a little disingenuous today. If they sincerely intended him to be bisexual, they could have punched that up in a way that they never really did. To me it seemed that they intended us to think he was gay without actually saying so definitively, but I also understand your reading of it. I know from past conversations that you're a reliable and thoughtful straight ally, so I respect your thinking here. 

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Yes. He could have been. My point was that the filmmakers fudged it a little by not making it clear. I think the lack of clarity was intentional on their part so that they could enter "the world of the homosexual", but also retreat from it by not completely committing their protagonist. 

Great point. I think that's because the script may have originally been written to entice a heterosexual actor (like James Mason) to taking the part-- so they could say to Bankable Actor X, 'Look he's not fully gay, or he's a married man who usually has sex with his wife but once or twice he didn't.' Also, I think they may have kept it unclear about where he was on the sexual spectrum to avoid problems with censors in both Europe and the U.S., because they wanted to be able to exhibit the film in a wide market.

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Great point. I think that's because the script may have originally been written to entice a heterosexual actor (like James Mason) to taking the part-- so they could say to Bankable Actor X, 'Look he's not fully gay, or he's a married man who usually has sex with his wife but once or twice he didn't.' Also, I think they may have kept it unclear about where he was on the sexual spectrum to avoid problems with censors in both Europe and the U.S., because they wanted to be able to exhibit the film in a wide market

 

Very true. It was probably also important for them to get it across that the Bogarde character had never actually acted on his desires, because the act was a crime, the desire was not. That way, they could go in depth without their tour guide actually being a criminal.

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Absolutely. It was probably also important for them to get it across that the Bogarde character had never actually acted on his desires, because the act was a crime, the desire was not. That way, they could go in depth without their tour guide actually being a criminal.

 

And yet the dialogue is very frank when he admits to his wife the desire he had for the young man. I wonder if Bogarde didn't insert some of that into the script with the director's blessing. This is where I think hiring a homosexual actor is beneficial to the story, because when he says something like that, it is coming from a real place.

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Very true. It was probably also important for them to get it across that the Bogarde character had never actually acted on his desires, because the act was a crime, the desire was not. That way, they could go in depth without their tour guide actually being a criminal.

 

 

Couldn't the motive for the Bogarde character only having a desire be that this allowed for him to expose the blackmail ring without having to fear criminal prosecution?   Yea,  due to the times,  his career and reputation was tainted but unlike the others being blackmailed he didn't need to fear being charged for a crime.  

 

I believe another motive for him 'sitting on a fence' was that this allowed for the plot to have a female character as his wife and all the sub-plot scenes related to that  (which as TB pointed out didn't come off so well even with fine acting by the two).    This helped pad the movie as well as tame the censors (as TB also pointed out).

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And yet the dialogue is very frank when he admits to his wife the desire he had for the young man. I wonder if Bogarde didn't insert some of that into the script with the director's blessing. This is where I think hiring a homosexual actor is beneficial to the story, because when he says something like that, it is coming from a real place.

You're right. It was a rare moment of catharsis for a gay actor, I'm sure.  It would definitely have helped him get to where he needed to be for "Death in Venice".

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Couldn't the motive for the Bogarde character only having a desire be that this allowed for him to expose the blackmail ring without having to fear criminal prosecution?   Yea,  due to the times,  his career and reputation was tainted but unlike the others being blackmailed he didn't need to fear being charged for a crime.  

 

I believe another motive for him 'sitting on a fence' was that this allowed for the plot to have a female character as his wife and all the sub-plot scenes related to that  (which as TB pointed out didn't come off so well even with fine acting by the two).    This helped pad the movie as well as tame the censors (as TB also pointed out).

And another way to read it is that he let the young man down, so if he walked out on his wife at the end, he would let her down and she would become a victim in all this, too. So I think he's trying to do what is right, though we know he has desires for things outside his marriage. 

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And another way to read it is that he let the young man down, so if he walked out on his wife at the end, he would let her down and she would become a victim in all this, too. So I think he's trying to do what is right, though we know he has desires for things outside his marriage. 

 

As for 'he has desires for things outside this marriage';   Well isn't that true for anyone that is married?   Hey, I love my wife and would never cheat for a variety of reasons but that doesn't mean I don't have a desire to have sex with other women.    This point was discussed in the scene where he confront the other guys being blackmailed.    He had desires but never acted on them.    To me that isn't difficult to understand or against ones so called true nature.

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As for 'he has desires for things outside this marriage';   Well isn't that true for anyone that is married?   Hey, I love my wife and would never cheat for a variety of reasons but that doesn't mean I don't have a desire to have sex with other women.    This point was discussed in the scene where he confront the other guys being blackmailed.    He had desires but never acted on them.    To me that isn't difficult to understand or against ones so called true nature.

Yes, but in this case, his desires are not for other women. It's a richly complex characterization, and I love the shades of ambiguity, especially at the end. I think it's better that he has a wife and remains married to her at the end. Probably if it was made today, he'd leave and pursue a fully gay lifestyle. But the way this script is written and presented, we have a man who has no easy answers, living a life filled with all kinds of contradictions and situations that have him bound, almost beyond his will. It's a fascinating portrait of a conflicted human being on many levels, professionally and personally. I feel it's Bogarde's best role, and he makes the most of it. 

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Yes, but in this case, his desires are not for other women. It's a richly complex characterization, and I love the shades of ambiguity, especially at the end. I think it's better that he has a wife and remains married to her at the end. Probably if it was made today, he'd leave and pursue a fully gay lifestyle. But the way this script is written and presented, we have a man who has no easy answers, living a life filled with all kinds of contradictions and situations that have him bound, almost beyond his will. It's a fascinating portrait of a conflicted human being on many levels, professionally and personally. I feel it's Bogarde's best role, and he makes the most of it. 

 

Oh,  I agree with you.   As I said in my other posts here I feel the movie was realistic as it relates to this one character being sincerely confused.   Today very few (on either side of the political spectrum),  wish to acknowledge that someone could be sincerely confused.   Each side feels they are only acting confused because of outside pressure  (of course each side has a very different view of what this outside pressure is).    Human sexuality is too complex for such black and white views IMO.

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Oh,  I agree with you.   As I said in my other posts here I feel the movie was realistic as it relates to this one character being sincerely confused.   Today very few (on either side of the political spectrum),  wish to acknowledge that someone could be sincerely confused.   Each side feels they are only acting confused because of outside pressure  (of course each side has a very different view of what this outside pressure is).    Human sexuality is too complex for such black and white views IMO.

You're absolutely right that sexuality goes way beyond black and white and I haven't meant to minimize the point you're making. The B in LGBT is bisexual, after all. I guess it's the word "confused" that's the sticking point for me. Yes, there is always some confusion in "coming out" as whatever part of the Kinsey scale you may be, as there is confusion in figuring out how you stand on political and moral issues, but eventually you find your comfort zone. "Confusion" really only applies to the process of getting there, not to the ultimate status of sexual identity. That idea is currently reflected in the expanded acronym many use which now includes "Q" for "questioning", which, to my mind, is intended to reflect an interim status during which a person explores possibitities on the way to some kind of more fixed sexual identity. If it can't be realistically "fixed", then it seems like the already existing term "bisexuality" would be the one to apply. If it persists in the long term, "confusion", again to my mind, reflects an unwillingness to deal with personal sexual identity.

That having been said, another part of the problem in discussing this is that we seem to be jumping back and forth between eras. The Dirk Bogarde character lived in a time when there were no realistic examples of "healthy" homosexuals, when the law was punitive and when social ostracism was the norm. In that situation, persons who felt they were homosexual would also have felt themselves labeled as psychologically defective, as criminal and as social outcasts. Inwardly, they would have felt these labels didn't rightfully apply to them so, yes, there would have been confusion, the confusion any thinking person would feel in that kind of me-against-the-world situation. I agree with you that Bogarde's character could be seen as legitimately "confused" and that his confusion could have been of long duration, but the confusion would have come about because of these outdated and disproven societal ways of thinking with which he was confronted. The terms under which we all come to our sexual identities have changed radically since the 1950's and 60's and the disparity between how society thinks of gay people and how we think of ourselves has greatly shrunk. I hope I don't seem too unforgiving, but it's not so much that I don't "wish to acknowledge that someone could be sincerely confused" as that I don't see as much necessity of being that way as there may once have been. I'm not talking about young people who are learning both to be sexual beings and to be of a certain sexual identity at the same time. I'm talking about adults who have the power to take the expression of their sexual identities in their own hands. If they're untimately bisexual, fine, but there's a point where "confusion" should stop. Sorry to get so hung up on a word, but I think it's important. It's been a lot of bloviating and I'm not even sure I've made my point.

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The Dirk Bogarde character lived in a time when there were no realistic examples of "healthy" homosexuals, when the law was punitive and when social ostracism was the norm. In that situation, persons who felt they were homosexual would also have felt themselves labeled as psychologically defective, as criminal and as social outcasts.

First, excellent post. I would say that in some ways there still isn't much difference between then and now. People are still ostracised in some families and communities. Some are still labeled as deviants or defective, and I am sure there are teens and other young people in college whose parents make them get counseling with doctors and ministers as a form of therapy to prevent coming out. So, yes, there can still be ambivalence and to a degree, confusion.

 

Even an adult like Bogarde's character may have slight confusion about his new place in society once the testimony in the case becomes common knowledge. He certainly has a changing relationship with his wife, and if he never acts on his desires or they wind up staying together and having an open marriage, that is not going to come without some awkwardness initially. 

 

I do agree that there was a lack of healthy positive role models in the early 1960s, at least outwardly. Not only in the world of this film and its characters and situations, but in the world of moviegoers who would watch this film on screen and for the first time, see someone like Dirk Bogarde coming out-- though it is very cautiously done and not without shades of ambiguity.

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You're absolutely right that sexuality goes way beyond black and white and I haven't meant to minimize the point you're making. The B in LGBT is bisexual, after all. I guess it's the word "confused" that's the sticking point for me. Yes, there is always some confusion in "coming out" as whatever part of the Kinsey scale you may be, as there is confusion in figuring out how you stand on political and moral issues, but eventually you find your comfort zone. "Confusion" really only applies to the process of getting there, not to the ultimate status of sexual identity. That idea is currently reflected in the expanded acronym many use which now includes "Q" for "questioning", which, to my mind, is intended to reflect an interim status during which a person explores possibitities on the way to some kind of more fixed sexual identity. If it can't be realistically "fixed", then it seems like the already existing term "bisexuality" would be the one to apply. If it persists in the long term, "confusion", again to my mind, reflects an unwillingness to deal with personal sexual identity.

That having been said, another part of the problem in discussing this is that we seem to be jumping back and forth between eras. The Dirk Bogarde character lived in a time when there were no realistic examples of "healthy" homosexuals, when the law was punitive and when social ostracism was the norm. In that situation, persons who felt they were homosexual would also have felt themselves labeled as psychologically defective, as criminal and as social outcasts. Inwardly, they would have felt these labels didn't rightfully apply to them so, yes, there would have been confusion, the confusion any thinking person would feel in that kind of me-against-the-world situation. I agree with you that Bogarde's character could be seen as legitimately "confused" and that his confusion could have been of long duration, but the confusion would have come about because of these outdated and disproven societal ways of thinking with which he was confronted. The terms under which we all come to our sexual identities have changed radically since the 1950's and 60's and the disparity between how society thinks of gay people and how we think of ourselves has greatly shrunk. I hope I don't seem too unforgiving, but it's not so much that I don't "wish to acknowledge that someone could be sincerely confused" as that I don't see as much necessity of being that way as there may once have been. I'm not talking about young people who are learning both to be sexual beings and to be of a certain sexual identity at the same time. I'm talking about adults who have the power to take the expression of their sexual identities in their own hands. If they're untimately bisexual, fine, but there's a point where "confusion" should stop. Sorry to get so hung up on a word, but I think it's important. It's been a lot of bloviating and I'm not even sure I've made my point.

 

Sorry Doug but I don't agree with you when you say ""Confusion" really only applies to the process of getting there, not to the ultimate status of sexual identity".

 

Your use of ultimate and ultimately is a black and white, as well as traditional way,  to look at human sexuality,  IMO. 

 

My point being that maybe there are 'degrees' of bisexuality that lead to years of 'confusion' and where one ends up deciding (yes, deciding),  they are most comfortable with only one specific gender.     Of course if one believe we are all hardwired from birth with no type of 'degrees' then my POV is BS.       

 

Lastly;  I have known too many people pushed to make a choice from both sides of the spectrum .    I just don't see the compassion in pushing people by demanding that they be their ultimate self  (assuming such a thing even exist).      To me a comment like "reflects an unwillingness to deal with personal sexual identity"  lacks compassion.

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Sorry Doug but I don't agree with you when you say ""Confusion" really only applies to the process of getting there, not to the ultimate status of sexual identity".

 

Your use of ultimate and ultimately is a black and white, as well as traditional way,  to look at human sexuality,  IMO. 

 

My point being that maybe there are 'degrees' of bisexuality that lead to years of 'confusion' and where one ends up deciding (yes, deciding),  they are most comfortable with only one specific gender.     Of course if one believe we are all hardwired from birth with no type of 'degrees' then my POV is BS.       

 

Lastly;  I have known too many people pushed to make a choice from both sides of the spectrum .    I just don't see the compassion in pushing people by demanding that they be their ultimate self  (assuming such a thing even exist).      To me a comment like "reflects an unwillingness to deal with personal sexual identity"  lacks compassion.

It's never been my intention to push anyone in any direction, much less demand that they be anything they're not prepared to be. The how, when and why of aligning yourself with a sexual idenity which is comfortable to one's self is up to the individual. I hope you know I don't think your POV is BS, but on the other hand I don't feel like copping to a lack of compassion either. Nowhere did I say we're hardwired from birth; life would be dull and unexceptional if we were. I'm sorry if you took exception to my use of "ultimate" sexual identity as being traditional black and white thinking, but I do think we all have a place on the spectrum (a "degree") which suits us individually and we're held back from evolving in other directions as well if we don't overcome any confusion we may have about it. For that reason alone, I don't think Dirk Bogarde's character was destined for happiness.

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It's never been my intention to push anyone in any direction, much less demand that they be anything they're not prepared to be. The how, when and why of aligning yourself with a sexual idenity which is comfortable to one's self is up to the individual. I hope you know I don't think your POV is BS, but on the other hand I don't feel like copping to a lack of compassion either. Nowhere did I say we're hardwired from birth; life would be dull and unexceptional if we were. I'm sorry if you took exception to my use of "ultimate" sexual identity as being traditional black and white thinking, but I do think we all have a place on the spectrum (a "degree") which suits us individually and we're held back from evolving in other directions as well if we don't overcome any confusion we may have about it.

 

It does look like I read too much into the use of the term 'ultimate'.    I guess I have heard the statement 'true sexual identity' along with the push to 'find yourself' too often.   That can create pressure on people that just need time and experimentation for them to figure it out and land in a place that works best for them.      Related to the movie,  maybe the lead character was 'selling out' by returning to his wife because of outside pressure, especially given the times,  but I would rather look at it as living the life he wants to live.

 

Sorry about the compassion line,  I can see I was mistaken.     

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It does look like I read too much into the use of the term 'ultimate'.    I guess I have heard the statement 'true sexual identity' along with the push to 'find yourself' too often.   That can create pressure on people that just need time and experimentation for them to figure it out and land in a place that works best for them.      Related to the movie,  maybe the lead character was 'selling out' by returning to his wife because of outside pressure, especially given the times,  but I would rather look at it as living the life he wants to live.

 

Sorry about the compassion line,  I can see I was mistaken.     

You're absolutely right, james, that pressure is the enemy. It might be better to say that the Bogarde character is living the life he chose to live, rather than the life he wants to live, but what you say is true. To each his own, to thine own self be true....I think we're in agreement on that much at least, james, and as always it's a pleasure having a discussion with someone who's so ready to consider someone else's point of view. I see you doing it all over the message boards and I thank you for doing it with me.

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Related to the movie,  maybe the lead character was 'selling out' by returning to his wife because of outside pressure, especially given the times,  but I would rather look at it as living the life he wants to live.

 

Yeah, I don't think he is selling out. I think he is owning up. He feels he owes his wife something (another try maybe?). It is almost like the old phrase 'putting your house in order.' He is reorganizing his priorities. His career, his commitment to getting an unjust law changed, and his marriage are among those priorities.

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Such a fascinating discussion, and "Victim", which was released in 1961, was such an enlightened step forward.

 

For me, Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde) experienced a homosexual fixation in college with a boy (Stainer) who eventually killed himself.  Frightened of what might have been, he devoted himself to his career and married a woman, Laura, to whom he confessed that attraction to that fellow student, Stainer  Over the years, he was able.to suppress his "homosexuality".  But, once he met Boy Barrett (Peter McEnery), Melville's "homosexuality" came to the fore and he tried his damnedest to cast Boy Barrett aside. But his subsequent devotion to uncovering the circumstances that drove Boy Barrett to his death is Melville's way of owning up to his homosexuality. And he had already admitted to Laura that he wanted Boy Barrett the moment he had seen  him.  Thus, the ending is not about Melville and Laura finding "peace" within themselves.  It's about Melville's acceptance of his homosexuality and leaving Laura behind.

 

This film was an attempt to enlighten England about homosexuals and to decriminialize homosexual behavior.

 

victim%2Bboy.png

 

Boy Barrett, trying desperately to save the man whom he loves, Melville Farr.

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