Peter McEnery as Boy Barrett, the poor victim hounded to death by blackmailers.
What is it?
A British film from 1961, directed by Basil Dearden.
What’s it about?
It’s a sordid tale of a group of seedy characters who take photos of gay men in compromising positions (which, given the times, could be as simple as embracing each other) and then blackmail their victims, who risk going to jail if their homosexual acts are revealed to the police. Dirk Bogarde plays a barrister with gay leanings who decides to track the blackmailers down and make sure they’re punished for their crimes.
The film is pretty relentlessly grim. It’s filmed in black and white and has a documentary feel to it. The filmmakers were clearly on a mission to reveal the injustice of the British laws of the time regarding homosexuality.
So, what did you think?
It’s well worth a look, for its portrait of gay life in London in the early 1960s. It’s not a pretty picture. The various gay characters are mostly sad guys leading hunted, haunted, miserable lives.
The film isn’t promoting the charm and beauty of being gay, then?
Not at all. It seems to be saying that gay men are pitiable, helpless victims who should be left alone by the law. But there’s a clear sense that these “inverts” are unfortunate to have this particular psychological aberration. Interestingly enough, the screenplay goes to some lengths to show that the Dirk Bogarde character (the hero) has not ever actually acted on his own gay leanings, and is actively seeking to suppress them—by, among other things, marrying a lovely woman who accepted him even though she knew he was “that way.” So, the message is that, while one should be pitied for being gay, one shouldn’t get thrown in prison.
It’s pretty outdated, clearly. Does it have historical interest?
Definitely. Apart from anything else, this is supposedly the first English-language film to use the word “homosexual”! But it’s also a gripping thriller, well acted, and a detailed portrait of a particular time and place that, one hopes, is firmly in the past.
One star. The appeal of the film for LGBT audiences is as a period piece. There’s nothing uplifting here, or particularly psychologically astute. But it’s a treasure for its portrayal of gay life in the UK in the early 1960s. It very much reflects the unrelenting gloom described by Quentin Crisp.