Rent it now: the still provocative British classic ‘Victim’

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Video distributors love to celebrate anniversaries with reissues of their major titles.

“Ben-Hur” appeared in 2011 in a belated deluxe 50th anniversary edition — the restoration of the 1959 best picture Oscar winner was so complicated that Warner Home Video delivered the DVD set two years late.

A multi-disc anniversary edition of the 1961 hit “West Side Story” was released on time in 2011, packed with great extras.

No one marked the 50th anniversary of the landmark British film “Victim,” however. It popped up on my Netflix queue a while ago — I forgot that I put it on the list — and I was amazed by how little time has dimmed the power of this Basil Dearden-directed thriller about a blackmail ring in London.

“Victim” was considered quite daring in its day — on both sides of the Atlantic — because it was one of the first films to deal with homosexuality in a serious manner and Dirk Bogarde was the first major actor to agree to play a gay character.

Bogarde stars in the film as a closeted married lawyer whose career is threatened by blackmailers. In 1961, homosexuality was still a criminal offense in England so rich and powerful gays became the targets of extortion attempts.

For Bogarde, the role represented a real risk because he was a reigning romantic screen idol of the 1950s. His managers violently opposed the actor agreeing to star in “Victim.”

It’s still considered dicey for major stars to tackle gay roles in today’s marketplace, but 50 years ago it was downright dangerous.

Bogarde was so tired of playing bland heroes, however, that he believed he had little to lose. “I was the Loretta Young of England,” he told a reporter a few years later.

The actor’s risk paid off. “Victim” stirred up real controversy so lots of people saw Bogarde’s powerhouse performance. From that point on, he was able to avoid pretty boy roles in favor of provocative fare such as “The Servant” (1963) and “The Damned” (1969).

Today’s image conscious stars should look at Bogarde’s career for a good example of how taking big risks in role selection can deliver huge rewards.

Joe Meyers

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