Dirk Bogarde and Slyvia Syms star in this riveting British film on the victimization of gay men in 1960s London. Bogarde’s Melville Farr, Syms plays Laura, his wife.
The large supporting includes Arthur Nicholls as Lord Fullbrook, Peter Copeley stands for Paul Mandrake, Dennis Price is Calloway, Norman Bird is Harold Doe, Alan Howard is Frank, Henry’s played by Charles Lloyd Pack, Peter McEnery is Jack Barrett, John Barrie is Detective Inspector Harris, Laura’s brother Scott is played by Alan MacNaughten, and Donald Churchill’s Eddy Stone.
Apparently, there’s a blackmail ring threatening to out the guys unless they pay up. Jack’s scurrying around from his shipping clerk job to call Eddy. The cops show up at his place, but he hides out and calls Farr; the prosecutor tells him off.
At the neighborhood pub, two creeps watch Barrett and Eddy talk. Back to police HQ, the cop that rousted Barrett’s has to admit that he came up empty. Now Farr’s at a club talking to some colleagues–who wants him on the phone again but Barrett. The young guy looks for Doe. Jack’s desperate; and wants to know what’s known about him (amongst the blackmailers we gather).
Now Barrett goes to Phip’s car dealership to ask for a way out of town; he’s advised to get a hitch from a truck driver. Scott’s at the Farrs’ when Mel gets home. Apparently, Scott’s going through a nasty divorce. On the wilder side, we see that Jack’s got his ride, alighting at a town where he finds Frank and Slyvie outside a theatre.
Jack needs £20 to catch a freighter so he can leave the country. Sylvie wants him to bag off “with his own sort,” but Frank promises to get him the money. Later, Frank’s has to make up with Slyvie. Soon, though, the cops are closing in on Jack; he’s brought in.
They’re wondering where all his money came from: he stole a ton (ok, a pun, because it was about £2000.) They know he’s been paying blackmail, and they want him to finger the shakedown artist. The police are not completely unsympathetic, he’s “more a victim than a criminal.” Definitely, as Jack’s hanged himself.
Eddy identified the body. Does Farr know more than he’s letting on about Barrett? “But Mr. Farr’s married, Sir.” Says an officer. Replies Harris “Famous last words.” Let’s see, he and Barrett we’re ‘friends,’ y’know.
Now the heat’s on Eddy; he gets an incriminating photo addressed to Barrett. But it’s Farr in the photo with Jack. Farr wants to enlist Eddy to find the blackmailer. Obviously, for Farr, it’s a double game; they nonetheless do agree to cooperate.
Doe is taken aback by the news of Barrett’s death. At the neighborhood pub, the blackmailer underlings watch the gay men operate. Now Henry gets one of the hot envelopes with a photo prize. Eddy lets Farr know that Henry is selling out his business–as he’s probably another blackmail victim. Farr, posing as a friend of Barrett’s, tries to get Henry to give up the blackmailer.
But the poor old guy just wants to leave the country. At this point, Farr reveals his identity, but since “nature played us a dirty trick” Henry’s a dead end. A scurrilous looking character shows up just as Farr leaves. When the creep starts breaking the place up, Henry collapses–fatal heart attack.
Farr’s bound to be the next target. An actor is the next lead; he’s a former client of Henry’s. He won’t cop to anything either. Farr’s in another sort of danger; his wife confronts him about his acquaintance with Barrett. “Are you sure you weren’t getting too fond of him?!” Laura demands. He admits that he “wanted him.” He realizes that Jack died to protect him; Laura hasn’t empathy for that.
He gets summoned to His Lordship’s. They know Farr’s being blackmailed too; what’s this? P.H. (Hilton Edwards), Calloway, and His Lordship are being targeted as well. They’re plan’s to pay off as a way to keep things quiet. The plot gets more intriguing the further we go–way beyond a humanistic expose of injustice.
There’s a backstory to Farr’s gay relationships, but the bottom line is “forget any ideas you’ve got about exposing these people. Bring them down and we go with them.” When Farr goes back to his wife, she “feels completely destroyed.”
At the pub, Phip relates he’s getting heat too. Farr goes to test drive a Rolls; actually it’s so he can talk to Phip, who becomes the go-between to the blackmailers. The contact turns out to be a guy on a scooter, Sandy. Farr basically wants all the guy has on himself and Phip. But Sandy’s coy about the details, and soon let’s his boss know what’s up.
Retaliation: closing the garage door Laura sees graffiti “Farr is queer.” Confiding in Scott, she stands up for Mel. But it’s literally Hobson’s choice–turn everyone in and face jail, or continue operating around the blackmailers, and…face jail.
Farr shows Laura a letter from the blackmailers. He restates his dilemma, to buy “security, of a sort.” At home, he goes over an incriminating photo with his valet. At least William’s loyal. Farr calls the Inspector. Meanwhile, P.H. and Phip get picked up for “false pretenses” a euphemism all right (the word ‘queer’ appearing in one of the letters they quote from).
Farr goes into the deep recesses of Doe’s bookstore. He finds an envelope with a letter from Phip; tucking a thick envelope–obviously filled with money–in its place. Outside, a cop tells Farr and the detectives waiting that the package was already taken.
A woman’s the money bagger–Sandy’s accomplice. That sharp dude is looking over you-know-what kind of film. He characterizes her as “an avenging angel and a peeping Tom.” Anyway, She and Sandy are busted by a cohort of cops, including Farr. Harris tells him “They’re going to be very vicious when they get into court.”
Farr goes home, Laura asks him about the blowback. He’s fixing to draw attention to himself to point out the unfairness of the law. She wants to stick with him, but he wants her to go away; to protect her feelings and reputation. He admits he’s “going to need her very desperately.” Poignantly she responds, “Need. That’s stronger than love.” She’ll not give up on him. The end.
Ultimately, this is tragedy–despite the uptick of hope and understanding at the end, Farr knows he’s a ruined man, and probably will do time as well. The quiet, domestic way this finally plays out shows the personal, human touch. Fragile, yes, but powerful too.
Victim succeeds in large part because of the implicit social critique and the obvious tension in what is essentially a murder mystery. Who is the blackmailer/murderer? How deep is Farr in this mess; and how will he come out of it? These questions keep us glued.
Almost noirish with the seedy urban atmosphere, this engages us on many levels. The mystery is so tightly woven that we don’t even learn who’s the blackmail mastermind. Nor do we get stuck with the court battle. In fact, it doesn’t much matter who fingered or targeted who, or what the consequences are. Evil is simply there. 9.5/10