(Dir. Basil Dearden) (1961)
In 1961, in the United Kingdom, and elsewhere, if a man put his pee-pee into another man, it was not only abnormal; it was a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment. And without knowing much about that, we are confident that such imprisonment was not only qua punishment, but for punishment.
So for film-industry insider Basil Dearden, and various stars, to make this rather didactic thriller constituted an act of courage. Boy Barrett (Peter McEnery) is being blackmailed and desperately wants to protect his object of desire, Neville Farr (Dirk Bogarde, in a superb performance, arch and feisty). Farr wants to get the villains, and discovers that other blackmail victims are as obstructive as the enemy, and that his crusade will probably ruin his prospects as a new silk.
The confrontation with his wife (a stoic and forsaken Sylvia Sims) as to why the cops want to know about Barrett, is sensational: “You won’t be content until you know, will you. Tiil you ripped it out of me. I stopped seeing him because I wanted him. Do you understand…?” But nothing compares to the shock you feel when Farr asks to speak to Boy Barrett at Fulham Police Station. That moment will stay with you.
A gutsy cast is good: Dennis Price (and other victims) and John Barrie as the knowing and irreproachable detective-inspector are stand-outs, as are the gloriously unrepentant and weird villains (Derren Nesbitt and Margaret Diamond). Harold Doe’s lovely bookshop should be preserved in aspic. It is a bit limp all round but then Hilton Edwards pops up, deliciously, as a fraudulent queer. And Nigel Stock as a two-timing cream-puff with roundaphobia reminds us of a few ex-friends.
Bogarde wrote in his memoir, Snakes and Ladders: “It is extraordinary, in this over-permissive age, to believe that this modest film could ever have been considered courageous, daring or dangerous to make. It was, in its time, all three.”