The 1961 black and white British thriller Victim is notable (and no doubt is being shown today on independent movie stations) for its groundbreaking, mostly sympathetic depiction of homosexuality.

The movie highlights the phenomenon of the blackmailing of closeted homosexuals, made possible by the fact that exposure would bring public shame and ridicule, and at that time possible criminal prosecution as well.

The protagonist—a married lawyer with an accelerating career—becomes aware of such a blackmail operation, at first due to his connection with one of the victims (who subsequently hangs himself) and then due to his becoming a victim himself. He and the police seek to bring the blackmailers to justice, in spite of the fact that it will require him to testify against them, and thus destroy his career and put his marriage at risk.

As a conventional thriller, it’s decent. I don’t know that there’d be much reason to watch it decades later though if it weren’t for its value in depicting what it was like to live as a closeted gay person at that time, and some of the pro and con attitudes that were prevalent.

Those attitudes persist to a significant extent today. The attitude of some characters is that homosexuality is a bad thing that ought to remain illegal. The attitude of other characters (and seemingly the attitude of the filmmakers) is that homosexuality is a sad condition that some people suffer from through no fault of their own.

The attitude not represented so much in the movie is that homosexuality is not wrong to begin with, an attitude that is significantly more common today than back then.

But the main point the movie illustrates is even if you think homosexuality is a bad thing, you may still conclude that the unintended negative consequences of criminalizing it are even worse. Much like there is a difference between the matter of the wisdom of using marijuana and other drugs, and the matter of whether such drugs should be legal.

Though in fact, most of the negative consequences of exposure that the blackmailers are holding over their victims’ heads do not depend on homosexuality being illegal. In that sense, the movie also asks one to think about the justification of social and economic consequences like hatred, vilification, loss of career, etc., even if the person never spends a day in jail.

So Victim is not a must-see, but it makes some points worth making. And as I say, even if you ignore any such messages and treat it as a conventional crime thriller, it’s no worse than average for an old movie of that genre.

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