Victim is not a timeless story, in fact if taking place in today’s world it would be almost pointless, and that’s a good thing. This is a British film, filmed in Black and White with classic film noir shots. This film would never have been made in Hollywood in 1961. This is a very interesting film for its time, It raised quite a stir. This film wasn’t even allowed in the United States at first, then this film was giving an X rating upon release. To see how times have changed, when this was released in 1986 on VHS it was given a PG-13 rating. In Britain it currently has a PG/12 rating. This film has no scene of violence or sexuality to speak of. This was the first English language film to say the word “homosexual” in it. At the time this film was made, homosexual activity between two males was illegal. At this time in the early 1960’s the police had been really lax in enforcing this law. That did open up the opportunity of blackmailers to take advantage of the law. Law Enforcement was pretty lax at trying to find these blackmailers as well. That is the basis for this film.
We start with Barrett, played by Peter McEnery running from the police. He eventually gets caught and is questioned why he has stolen over 2,000 pounds from his employers. He is flat broke and the detectives quickly determine that he has been blackmailed. The whole time he is running, he is trying to get a hold of our hero, the lawyer Melville Farr played by Dirk Bogarde. We soon find that Farr and Barrett knew each other and may have had a relationship, this is very ambiguous and depending on the editing of the version you see, may be more or less so. Farr is married to a wife, played by Sylvia Syms, she seems pretty forgiving, especially given the times this film takes place in. When Farr is brought in by the detectives for questioning we get some harsh news and Farr starts his own investigation to find the blackmailers. This has some holes in the plot for sure, like if you’re a blackmailer why would you blackmail the young single working class man, instead of the rich lawyer with a wife?
This film may have been one of the things that helped get the laws for gays changed in Britain, which came 6 years later in 1967. In that way this was a very timely and very important film in the early 1960’s and is worth viewing for capturing a pivotal time in human rights. Outside the politics of this film, we have a decent plot with some twists and turns, a red herring here and there, but not an overly satisfying mystery on its own.