(director: Basil Dearden; screenwriters: Janet Green/John McCormick; cinematographer: Otto Heller; editor: John D. Guthridge; music: Philip Green; cast: Dirk Bogarde (Melville Farr), Sylvia Syms (Laura), Dennis Price (Calloway), Peter McEnery(“Boy” Barrett), Anthony Nicholls (Lord Fullbrook), Peter Copley (Paul Mandrake), Norman Bird (Harold Doe), Alan MacNaughtan (Scott Hankin), Nigel Stock (Phip), John Barrie (Det. Inspector Harris), John Cairney (Sgt. Bridey), Charles Lloyd Pack (Henry), Derren Nesbitt (Sandy, sadistic blackmailer), Margaret Diamond (Miss Benham); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Michael Relph; Janus; 1961-UK)

“… thriller with a sincere plea for Great Britain to end its oppressive law that makes it a criminal offense to be a homosexual.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Basil Dearden (“Frieda”/”The Blue Lamp”/”Sapphire”)directs with conviction a hard-hitting moralistic thriller with a sincere plea for Great Britain to end its oppressive law that makes it a criminal offense to be a homosexual. The law actually encourages blackmail, since the victim will bring himself down with the extortionist if he presses charges. It was considered a daring film at the time. Dirk Bogarde took the starring role, one that many other noted actors turned down; and he brilliantly acquits himself with a moving, forceful and sensitive performance. Bogarde was himself a closeted homosexual because of the law and relished being part of the first film in the UK to deal with homosexuality. Instead of hindering his career, it served him well to get out being typecast in light roles to take on even juicier and more complex parts in the future. It’s intelligently and tautly written by Janet Green and John McCormick as both a suspenseful murder/blackmail drama and social conscience piece. In America it only was seen in art-house theaters.

DirkBogarde plays prominent London barrister Melville Farr,who is successful in his career and happily married to his beloved school teacher wife Laura (Sylvia Syms). Before their marriage, Farr told her of his past homosexual experiences and promised to give her all his love. “Boy” Barrett (Peter McEnery), a handsome young English construction worker, had an affair with Farr until the barrister broke it off. Barrett tries to contact Farr over his blackmail problem that led him to embezzle his workplace to make the payments. But he can’t get through, as Farr thinks he wants to blackmail him. Instead Boy wishes to warn Farr to watch out for the blackmailers. When Barrett is arrested trying to flee the country, he hangs himself in his jail cell without incriminating the blackmailers. But he leaves behind a scrap-book with newspaper clippings of Farr. Investigating Det. Inspector Harris (John Barrie) tries to get Farr to help them get the blackmailers, but he chooses to go after them alone.

In the end, the barrister proves to be a man with great integrity (telling his loyal wife: ‘I stopped seeing him because I wanted him. Do you understand? I wanted him!’). After witnessing how cruel the blackmailers are in destroying so many lives, Farr decides to jeopardize his own marriage, reputation and career by working with the police to bring the blackmailers to justice–even if it means exposing himself to the unfair law.

Despite the film being an acclaimed critical success, the public stayed away in droves.Nevertheless the film connected with many moviegoers who felt it reflected some of their own experiences in the world, that it honestly portrayed homosexuals as ordinary and real folks, and that it was not afraid to take a stand on an important social issue at the time. It might not be the most exciting thriller, but it might be one of the more essential ones.

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