Gay Blackmail Stories: 'Victim' & 'The Best Man' & 'Advise and Consent' + Alfred Hitchcock Editor Has Died

by Andre Soares
Sylvia Syms Dirk Bogarde Victim
Sylvia Syms, Dirk Bogarde in Basil Dearden's Victim.

30 Rock's Tracy Morgan is in the news today because of viciously anti-gay remarks he made while performing a comedy routine in Tennessee, a state where gays and lesbians have seen their civil rights attacked by right-wing Christians/Republicans on various fronts.

Coincidentally, Turner Classic Movies (website) is showing three movies about a time decades ago when gays were perceived to be as sick and dangerous as, say, murderous pedophiles: The Best Man, Advise & Consent, and Victim.

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, and adapted by Gore Vidal from his own play, The Best Man (1964) is on right now. Cliff Robertson is excellent as the ambitious politician whose chance to win his party's nomination for the presidency is jeopardized when a secret homosexual affair in his past is used to blackmail him. A real filthy, gross, evil, disgusting, family-destroying gay liaison; not just mere sexting and pictures of the candidate's bulging underwear.

Otto Preminger's Advise & Consent (1962) is one of the most effective political movies made in Hollywood. The melodrama is mostly kept in check, the revelation about Don Murray's past is surprising (for those unfamiliar with the story), and the acting is generally quite good – with the exception of Charles Laughton's unconvincing Southern senator.

Basil Dearden's Victim (1961) is a landmark motion picture, as it was the first non-underground English-language feature film to tackle head-on the issue of homosexuality. Dirk Bogarde – ironically, himself a total closet case – stars as the married man who is blackmailed after it's discovered he has been having an affair with a younger man. Bogarde is outstanding as the hounded gay guy, and so is Sylvia Syms as his unsuspecting wife. Dated or no, Victim remains an effective depiction of the evils of bigotry.

Of course, luckily we're long past all that, huh … Except, perhaps, for one carefully worded Tennessee ad demanding an end to the protection of gays and lesbians at work, and which shows a (presumably gay) male about to attack an innocent little girl (!) in a public restroom.

And later this evening, don't miss Hot Rods to Hell (1967), a shameless piece of trash about a family harassed by a psycho teen gang. Jeanne Crain and Dana Andrews star as The Establishment; Mimsy Farmer is their wayward daughter.

Hugh Stewart
Hugh Stewart.

Original 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' Editor Dies

Editor-turned-producer Hugh Stewart, among whose credits is Alfred Hitchcock's original version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, died at his home in Denham, in the United Kingdom, on May 31. Stewart was 100 years old.

One of Hitchcock's most respected British efforts, the 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much is considered by many to be far superior to the 1956 Hollywood remake, in which James Stewart and Doris Day replaced Leslie Banks and Edna Best, whose son mysteriously disappears.

About Hitchcock's working methods, Stewart remarked in the documentary Hitchcock - The Early Years: “When he came on stage for the first day of shooting, he put the script down and said, 'Right, another one in the bag.' Not that he had any disrespect for the making of the film, but as far as he was concerned, he knew the film so well, it was already in his mind. The Albert Hall sequence was the major example of it.”

From 1934 to 1940, Stewart edited fifteen British productions. Chief among them were producer Alexander Korda's pro-British propaganda film The Lion Has Wings (1939), starring Merle Oberon and Ralph Richardson; Michael Powell's thriller The Spy in Black (1939), with Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson; and three early Vivien Leigh films, the suspense thriller Dark Journey (1937), and the comedies Storm in a Teacup (1937) and St. Martin's Lane / Sidewalks of London (1938).

During World War II, Stewart served as a documentary filmmaker, covering, among other events, the Allied landing in Tunisia in 1942 (Tunisian Victory, 1944), the British landing in Normandy on D-Day in 1944, and the liberation of the Belsen concentration camp.

Stewart's credits as a producer consisted mostly of B-comedies made in the '50s and '60s, usually starring Norman Wisdom. Two higher-end exceptions were Trottie True / The Gay Lady (1949), directed by Brian Desmond Hurst, and starring Jean Kent as ambitious actress Trottie True, and Robert Ashe's Make Mine Mink (1960), with Terry-Thomas.

Photo and Stewart quote via hitchcockwiki.com.

'Planet of the Apes' & Joan Crawford: Packard Campus

Judy Garland would have turned 89 today. It goes without saying that Garland is one of the stars featured in the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation's June 2011 schedule. Unfortunately, the Garland screening of For Me and My Gal took place yesterday. So, it's too late for me to recommend it.

However, I can still recommend several other gems awaiting movie lovers at the Packard Campus this month. Those include Franklin J. Schaffner's Planet of the Apes (June 10); Ranald MacDougall's Queen Bee (June 16); and the film noir double feature (June 18) The Big Steal, directed by Don Siegel, and The Narrow Margin, directed by Richard Fleischer.

Much like another 1968 release, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes is one of the seminal films of the 1960s. Needless to say, neither 2001 nor Planet of the Apes was even nominated for a Best Picture Oscar that year. (The winner was Carol Reed's Oliver!.) Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, and the excellent Kim Hunter star.

Queen Bee stars Joan Crawford at her most manipulative, controlling, and psychotic. Sounds good? It gets better. Director-screenwriter Ranald MacDougall was credited for the screen adaptation of Mildred Pierce, which won Crawford her one and only Best Actress Oscar. MacDougall also wrote Possessed, which earned Crawford her second Oscar nod. Crawford rises to the melodramatic occasion in Queen Bee; she should have earned another nod that year.

The Big Steal is a minor film noir. In fact, the brightly lit effort looks more like a straight crime drama than a film noir. But the plot is film noirish; for instance, you never know who you should trust, if anyone: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, William Bendix – they could all be crooks. Many critics felt that silent era superstar Ramon Novarro, making his Hollywood comeback after twelve years away, stole the film as a sly Mexican cop. I don't particularly agree; I found Jane Greer more fun to watch.

More intriguing – and more edge-of-you-seat – than The Big Steal is The Narrow Margin, a B feature superior to much of Hollywood's A product, then or now. Charles McGraw stars as a cop assigned to protect the widow of a mobster on her way aboard a train to testify against the mob. Marie Windsor plays the rough, crude witness-to-be; Jacqueline White is the classy dame the cop meets on the train.

In addition to some solid work all around, The Narrow Margin offers an excitingly staged and edited climactic fight scene and the moral lesson that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Or a perfume by its scent. Or something along those lines. Released in 1952, The Narrow Margin was actually shot two years earlier.

George Cukor's Little Women (June 24) and Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter (June 17) are of historical interest. The sugary Little Women helped to turn Katharine Hepburn into a star; the simplistic and simple-minded – and very long – The Deer Hunter was that year's Best Picture Oscar winner. And it earned Meryl Streep her very first Academy Award nomination.

From the Packard Campus press release:

All shows are free, but children twelve and under must be accompanied by an adult. The theater is at the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation located at 19053 Mt. Pony Rd. in Culpeper, VA.

Reservations are encouraged and can be made one week in advance (for Saturday shows the previous Friday.) Call the information line at (540) 827-1079 ext. 79994 or (202) 707-9994 Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 4:00 p.m. Reservations are held until ten minutes before show time.

Request ADA accommodations five business days in advance at (202) 707-6362 or ADA@loc.gov.

The theater lobby opens 45 minutes before show time. Most programs are preceded by an informative slide presentation about the film and music selected by the Recorded Sound Section of the Library of Congress. Short subjects will be presented before select programs. Titles are subject to change without notice.

For Me and My Gal Judy Garland
Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, George Murphy starred in For Me and My Gal

Thursday, June 2 (7:30 p.m.)
KID GALAHAD (Warner Bros, 1937)
A mob-connected trainer grooms a bellhop for the boxing ring. Directed by Michael Curtiz. With Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and Wayne Morris. Crime drama, romance, Black & White, 102 min.

Friday, June 3 (7:30 p.m.)
TALL IN THE SADDLE (RKO, 1944)
Rocklin, an experienced ranch hand, arrives in town expecting to start a new job only to find that his prospective employer was shot dead a few weeks before. Directed by Edwin L. Marin. With John Wayne, Ella Raines, Ward Bond and Gabby Hayes. Western, mystery, romance. Black & White, 87 min.

Saturday, June 4 (7:30 p.m.)
THE AFRICAN QUEEN (United Artists, 1951)
In Africa during WW1, a gin-swilling riverboat owner is persuaded by a strait-laced missionary to use his boat to attack an enemy warship. Directed by John Huston. With Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and Robert Morley. Adventure, drama, romance. Color. 105 min. Selected for the National Film Registry in 1994.

Kid Galahad Bette Davis Edward G. RobinsonThursday, June 9 (7:30 p.m.)
FOR ME AND MY GAL (MGM, 1942)
The story of vaudeville troupers in the days before America enters World War I. Directed by Busby Berkeley. With Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. Musical romance. Black & white, 104 min.

Friday, June 10 (7:30 p.m.)
PLANET OF THE APES (20th Century Fox, 1968)
Three astronauts land on a mysterious planet ruled by intelligent apes and are taken prisoner. They discover they have travelled in a time warp to the Earth in the distant future. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. With Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans and James Whitmore. Science fiction, drama. Color. 112 min. Selected for the National Film Registry in 2001.

Saturday, June 11 (2:00 p.m.)
THE SANDLOT (20th Century Fox, 1993)
The adventures of a small town sandlot baseball team and the new kid in town who tries to fit in. Directed by David M. Evans. With Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar, Karen Allen and James Earl Jones. Family comedy/drama. Color. 101 min.

Thursday, June 16 (7:30 p.m.)
QUEEN BEE (Columbia, 1955)
A manipulative Southern socialite sets out to destroy the lives of all those around her. Directed by Ranald MacDougall. With Joan Crawford, Barry Sullivan, Betsy Palmer and John Ireland. Drama. Black & White, 95 min.

Friday, June 17 (7:30 p.m.)
THE DEER HUNTER (Universal, 1978)
An in-depth examination of how the Vietnam War affected the lives of people in a small industrial town. Directed by Michael Cimino. With Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep. War drama. Rated R, Color, 182 min. Selected for the National Film Registry in 1996.

Saturday, June 18 (7:30 p.m.)
FILM NOIR DOUBLE FEATURE
THE BIG STEAL (RKO, 1949)An army lieutenant accused of robbery pursues the real thief on a frantic chase through Mexico, aided by the thief's ex-girlfriend. Directed by Don Siegel. With Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, William Bendix and Ramón Novarro. Film noir, thriller. Black & White, 71 min.
THE NARROW MARGIN (RKO, 1952)
A gangster's moll planning to testify against the mob must be protected from assassins on a train trip from Chicago to Los Angeles. Directed by Richard Fleischer. With Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor, Jacqueline White and Gordon Gebert. Film noir, thriller. Black & White, 71 min.

Thursday, June 23 (7:30 p.m.)
JOE COCKER: MAD DOGS & ENGLISMEN (MGM,1971)
Documentary of Joe Cocker and the 40-member Mad Dogs & Englishmen on their landmark 1970 concert tour of the United States. Directed by Pierre Adidge. With Joe Cocker, Leon Russell and The Band. Music concert. Color. 117 min. .

Friday, June 24 (7:30 p.m.)
LITTLE WOMEN (RKO-Radio, 1933)
The four March sisters fight to keep their family together and find love along the way while their father is off fighting the Civil War.Directed by George Cukor. With Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Jean Parker and Frances Dee. Family drama. Black & White, 115 min. .

Saturday, June 25 (7:30 p.m.)
WHEN COMEDY WAS KING (20th Century Fox, 1960)
A compilation of funny moments from the top comedians of the silent era. Directed by Robert Youngson. With Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy, Charley Chase. Buster Keaton and the Keystone Kops. Comedy, Black & White, 81 min.

Thursday, June 30 (7:30 p.m.)
AN EVENING OF TELEVISION: 1960s ROAD SHOWS
THEN CAME BRONSON (NBC-TV, 1969)
Disillusioned newspaperman Jim Bronson takes to the highway on his Harley-Davidson in a journey of self-discovery. Starring Michael Parks. Black & White, 60 min.
ROUTE 66 (CBS-TV, 1960s)
Wanderers Tod and Buz travel the lower 48 in their Corvette convertible and get caught up in the struggles of people they encounter. Starring Martin Milner and George Maharis. Black & White, 60 min.
RUN FOR YOUR LIFE (NBC-TV, 1960s)
When lawyer Paul Bryan learns he has only a short time to live, he decides to do all the things he had never had time for.Starring Ben Gazarra. Color. 60 min.

Photos: Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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