Putting gay rights on trial – on film

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Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine find the extent of their relationship questioned in 1961’s “The Children’s Hour” | John Springer Collection / Corbis | 14297

Bob Mondello comments on NPR over a genre of films which put gay rights on trial.

In 1960 the way Peter Finch portrayed Oscar Wilde in his trials of many years earlier was somewhat brusque and oblique, in order to get the film through the censors and in a form acceptable to post war audiences of the era – an era in which homosexuality remained illegal. 30 years later, Stephen Fry was able to render the part in a more natural and honest way.

The motives behind cases portrayed on film also had to be censored, on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Alfred Hitchcock made up a whole new murder case in Rope, which dealt with gay themes only as subtext and seized on the pair’s interest in Nietzschean theory in 1948. A decade later, the movie Compulsion allowed a defense attorney played by Orson Welles to hint a bit about “immature boys of diseased minds,” but he mostly asserted that the trial’s sensationalism stemmed from the wealth, rather than the sexual orientation, of his clients. Three decades later, Swoon showed no such reserve, focusing on the killers’ sexuality almost to the exclusion of all other motives.”

SP

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