Dirk Bogarde was cool. He had style. I knew that as soon as I saw him in one B&W ‘50’s movie, loafing around a beach, chatting to his bikini-clad co-star, wearing white trousers, white shirt, white socks and plimsolls. Who else could carry that off? Okay, Cary Grant could, but Grant would have added a cravat, and topped it off with a checked linen jacket.
It’s telling that Bogarde wore such clothes in a beach scene - surrounded by naked flesh cooking under a studio sun - he maintained a distance, an image, a decorum, an untouchability. He was actually hiding who he was, hiding behind his clothes; and that distance, rightly or wrongly, made him seem cool.
Bogarde started off in theater before making his impact as the cowardly killer of P.C. Dixon (Jack Warner) in The Blue Lamp. Warner went on to become a stalwart of TV with Dixon of Dock Green, while Bogarde became the Rank Organization’s prime beefcake, the biggest British star of the 1950s, with a string of audience-pleasing movies. While these films brought fame and fortune, they sold short his very real talents as an actor.
This was to change, when in 1961, Bogarde made Victim, the highly controversial film that moved his career in a different, more intelligent, more worthy direction.
Victim dealt with the then-taboo subject of homosexuality, telling the story of a man who falls prey to a blackmail gang. It was the first film to use the word “homosexual” and caused considerable outrage amongst those angry letter writers of Tunbridge Wells, but it did help change opinions, and was a step in the right direction to Britain decriminalizing homosexuality in 1967.
Worried that Bogarde (who was himself gay) might lose some of his mass of adoring female admirers, Rank roped him into this promotional interview for Victim, where the actor talked about his career, his ambitions and hopes for the future. It’s a fairly candid interview for a man who, in his later years, fictionalized most of his life.
Dirk Bogarde would have been 90 this week, and for me, he’s still cool as fuck.