By Raquel Stecher
In celebration of Pride Month, let’s take a look at some of my favorite LGBT films from the 20th Century, starting with the 1930s and ending in the 1980s. All of these titles are available to rent on DVD Netflix.
“I'll be a boy and rough and hard. I won't care what I do.”
Directed by George Cukor, this gender-bending tale follows a young woman, Sylvia Scarlett (Katharine Hepburn), who chooses to dress like a man and adopt the moniker Sylvester to help her father (Edmund Gwenn) flee from the London cops who are hot on his trail. In France, they meet con artist Monk (Cary Grant) and actor Michael Fane (Brian Aherne), and Sylvia finds herself torn between being a woman and presenting herself as a man. The film was not well-received at the time and suffers from a convoluted plot, but it’s grown in estimation over the years for its exploration of sexual politics and gender identity.
“Good and evil, right and wrong were invented for the ordinary average man, the inferior man, because he needs them.”
When Brandon (John Dall) and Philip (Farley Granger), strangle their roommate David (Dick Hogan) with a rope, they celebrate committing the perfect crime. With the body hidden, they host a dinner party but are no match for their guest Rupert (James Stewart), who quickly catches on and begins to investigate. The Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock employed long takes to simulate one long continuous shot.
The film is based on Patrick Hamilton’s play Rope’s End, which makes references to the principal’s characters having a homosexual relationship. This is downplayed in the movie; it is the 1940s after all. The lead actors Dall and Granger as well as the screenwriter Arthur Laurents were all queer figures from film history.
“People like doing what they used to do, after they've stopped being able to do it.”
Based on Tennessee William’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is charged with the type of drama that only a good Southern gothic tale can deliver. It’s Big Daddy’s (Burl Ives) birthday and the family has reunited to celebrate. Brick Pollitt (Paul Newman), the former high school football player and Big Daddy’s son, has broken his leg, and to make matters worse, his marriage with the stunning and feisty Maggie the Cat (Elizabeth Taylor) is on the fritz.
With a motley crew of hot-headed characters under one roof, things bubble to the surface when Big Daddy makes an important announcement. The gay subtext lies with Brick, who has a sort of lavender marriage with Maggie and still longs for his former lover and teammate who committed suicide a few years back. Most of the gay themes in the original play were stripped from the movie, much to Williams’ dismay. The implication remains and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof went on to become a celebrated classic.
“I can’t help the way I am, but the law says I’m a criminal.”
Directed by Basil Dearden and starring Dirk Bogarde, Victim was one of the first commercial films to deal with the subject of homosexuality head on. It’s the first to use the word “homosexual” and, after it was released in the UK, it was denied approval by the Production Code in Hollywood.
The film stars Dirk Bogarde as Melville Farr, a lawyer who leads a double life. When a young man he knew commits suicide, the tragedy reveals a blackmailing ring that is terrorizing the closeted gay men of London. To keep their careers and reputations intact, they fork over much of their hard-earned money to keep these criminals quiet. Farr, putting his own career and his marriage to Laura (Sylvia Syms), at risk, tries to end the blackmailers reign of terror once and for all. This film doesn’t get the attention or credit it deserves for opening up dialogue about homosexuality.
“That's me, darling. Unusual places, unusual love affairs. I am a most strange and extraordinary person.”
Bob Fosse’s decadent musical Cabaret (1972) stars Liza Minnelli in her most iconic film role. Set in 1930s Berlin during the rise of the Nazi Party, the film follows Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), a cabaret performer for the underground Kit Kat Club, who develops a relationship with bisexual writer Brian Roberts (Michael York). Joel Grey plays the club’s Master of Ceremonies and leads some of the film’s most lavish performances.
A mix of history, compelling characters and memorable songs, Cabaret was a hit with audiences and still endures today as a notable film in the history of queer cinema. It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won 8 of them including Best Actress for Liza Minnelli, Best Actor for Joel Grey and Best Director for Bob Fosse.
“England has always been disinclined to accept human nature.”
For fans of screenwriter James Ivory’s Call Me By Your Name (2017), Maurice, which he co-wrote and directed, is required viewing. The stories have many similarities, but Maurice stands out as a period piece with a surprisingly hopeful ending. Ivory adapted E.M. Forester’s posthumous novel, one the author didn’t think could ever be published. The film tells the the story of Maurice (James Wilby), a university student who falls for his friend Clive (Hugh Grant). Both fear for their livelihood when a fellow classmate goes to jail for public indecency (homosexuality was illegal at the time) and the two part ways. But when they’re reunited, Maurice finds a new love interest in Clive’s groundsman Alec (Rupert Graves). It’s a beautiful film, one that you’ll want to watch over and over again.
Raquel Stecher has been writing about classic films for the past decade on her blog Out of the Past. She attends the TCM Classic Film Festival as well as other events where old movie fanatics get together to geek out. Raquel has been a devoted DVD Netflix member since 2002! Follow her on her blog Out of the Past, or find her on Twitter @RaquelStecher and @ClassicFilmRead, Facebook, and Instagram.