HOUSTON VOICE www.houston voice.com
APRIL 18, 2003 17
film MATTHEW FORKE
i in n°w °n dvD/ The chi|dren's Hour-'
Victim' offer compelling reminders
of past cinematic repression.
Gay cinema, circa 1961
TASKED WITH PROTECTING THE
public morality, the stringent Motion
Picture Production Code was an almighty
and powerful force in the motion picture
industry for many years. Refusal of the
Code's seal of approval could doom a
film's distribution chances and box-office
success. Subversive filmmakers beware.
But by the early '60s, successful adult
fare such as "Suddenly Last Summer" and
"Psycho" stretched the limits of what the
Code deemed "appropriate" viewing.
Suggestions of sex and violence were fine,
to a degree, but open discussion of homosexuality was still a big no-no. Case in
point: Basil Dearden's "Victim" and
William Wyler's "The Children's Hour,"
both of which are now available on DVD.
"Victim" is a British film starring Dirk
Bogarde as Melville Farr, a respected
London barrister who's married but hiding a questionable past. A handsome and
popular British movie star, it was undeniably brave of Bogarde to play one of the
cinema's first openly gay lead characters.
In 1961 — or even 1981 — most actors of
his stature, if not all, would have treated
the part as if it were radioactive.
The plot is fairly straightforward.
Farr's former lover, "Boy" Barrett (Peter
McEnrey) commits suicide after police
suspect he's a target of a blackmail ring.
At the time, Britain's harsh laws against
homosexuality made closeted gays an
easy target for blackmail.
Farr must decide whether or not to help
the police, knowing that exposure may very
well cost him his career and marriage.
Some may quibble with the ending, but
"Victim" is a solid, well-written and acted
thriller — and far ahead of its time in its
clinical discussion of homosexuality. In
fact, the film helped bring attention to the
antiquated laws that condemned this
"social problem," eventually leading to
Viewers today can only imagine the
ulcers it must have given American censors back in 1961, when "Victim" was
denied Code approval and surely suffered
at the box office as a result.
LESS PROGRESSIVE, AT LEAST BY
comparison, is Wyler's "The Children's
Hour" adapted by Lillian Hellmann from
her play of the same name. Here we see
Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine
as schoolteachers accused of having "sinful sexual knowledge" of one another — a
lie told by a vindictive student.
The film is an affecting drama, skillfully shot and acted. But it's sometimes frustrating to watch, as if the filmmakers go
so far out of their way trying to create a
Due to now archaic film rules, Audrey Hepburn (left)
and Shirley McClain dared not speak the name of
their forbidden love in The Children's Hour,' but the
DVD is required viewing for its history lesson.
"tasteful" story about homosexuality that
today it feels cowardly and insincere.
And that flaw is a direct result of the
Code, which restricted audiences from
hearing words like "homosexuality," "lesbian" or "gay." In their place, we get "this
thing," "it" or "a great, awful lie."
At one point, Audrey Hepburn uses
the word "lovers." Hopefully, viewers
don't go to the bathroom during that particular scene, or they may find themselves hopelessly lost as to what the film
is actually about.
And what exactly is "sinful sexual
knowledge" of each other? Sharing tips
on oral sex? Just say it, for heaven's sake.
WHAT SADDENS JVIE THE MOST IS THE
tragic decision of one major character near
the end of the film. Every time I see it I
want to yell at the screen, "It's not that bad!
Move to the city! Trust me!"
But unfortunately, the Code wins for
the last time, and the one "guilty" character is forced to pay dearly for her sin.
Both films are presented in their original wide-screen version, and both include
their original theatrical trailer. Sound is
presented in a satisfactory mono track.
A nice bonus, "Victim" includes a vintage 20-minute interview with Bogarde at
the time of the film's release, plus a linear essay. As drama or as social history,
these films are required viewing.
f) MORE INFO
Home Vision Entertainment
DVD Retail $19.95
The Children's HouK
MGM Home Entertainment
DVD Retail $19.98
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