Overt, covert, explicit or implied, lesbian and gay characters have weaved their presence throughout motion picture history in one way or another.


Were there really coded ways to read these characters or just wishful thinking from a population desperately seeking their own positive reflection on the silver screen? Were cinematic easter eggs hiding in plain sight, planted by knowing producers and directors with a wink and a nod to those in the audience? I believe privately, behind-the-Hollywood-scenes, every body knew what was what and who was who. As long as it wasn’t made obvious and didn’t hurt box office, all was well. This was an open secret in Tinsel Town, but not for the moviefans. Silent film star William Haines was a career casualty by the mid-30’s. But he had an enormously successful second career as an interior designer, and a long term relationship few could rival, on that speedway to Reno, with Jimmie Shields that lasted until Haines’ death in 1973.


Hollywood’s films were always a little behind the times where LGBT topics were concerned compared to progressive Europe. In 1931 Leontine Sagan directs Mädchen in Uniform.” A German film, this tells the sensitive story of a student who falls in love with her teacher at an all girls school. America had, what would later be known as, pre-code films…but nothing like that. ( Well, maybe Little Caesar ).


Then there’s Quai des Orfèvres ( a 1947-directed film by Henri-Georges Clouzot of Wages of Fear and Diaboliquefame ) a crime mystery where a side issue is a photographer in love with her flighty flirty coquettish friend who is involved in murder. The film doesn’t make this attraction the focal point of the story, and doesn’t make it a big deal. And the movie doesn’t judge the photographer either ( played by the beautiful Simone Renant ). She just is. Move along now. Nothing to see here…other than that dead body over there.

But back to the state of the good ol’ U.S. of US.


There were all sorts of ways these characters were woven into classic films that allowed us a safe front-row seat into the LGBT experience; and a lot of times the depiction made the audience glad they weren’t in their shoes. Some characters portrayed funny types or were poked fun of. Some you wouldnt want to meet in a dark alley. When you saw men like Peter Lorre and Douglas Walton in The Maltese Falcon and Murder, My Sweet visit detectives Spade and Marlow, you knew a beat-down was expected…and “deserved” for their subtle flamboyancy. ( Those quotes are on purpose ). This is the way folks thought back then.


The message first and foremost was clearly, this “thing” was not something wanted by the characters. In Draculas Daughter the countess doesnt want to be a vampire. She seeks a cure. But when the blood urge takes over, any jugular vein will do nicely. 


      By the time THE HUNGER ( 1983 ) comes along, folks line up around the block to be bitten by Catherine Deneuve

Some characters are all over the map and this was just part of experimenting. No harm, no foul; a journey in self-discovery before they perhaps moved on to the next thing. At times characters were not even aware of the who(s), what(s) and why(s) of their feelings.


And other times, they were…


Housekeepers and best friends, gangsters and cowboys and travel companions had strong unspoken attractions. The characters might not know it, but sometimes we, the audience, had no choice but to acknowledge what we see. Nine times out of ten, if the character became self-aware, suicide was the only option.


Maybe this onion peeling and archaeological digging builds up character. Sometimes I feel very wise when I recognize these nuggets and dumb when the subtlety goes over my noggin’. I am irked when I see lovers ‘in name only. Im left scratching my head saying “Why bother?”

What is this thing called love? Maybe it’s just a deep friendship. Yeah, thats the ticket. Pay no attention to that beautiful girl there trying to get our hero’s


attention. Two of the most wonderfully marvelous films with a gay subtext has to be /\ Desert Fury ( 1947 ) and Warlock ( 1959 ). \/  Real or imagined, but most-likely real, ( yeah…lets just say real ) in these two films it seems a woman comes between the deep  WARLOCK ( Fonda & Quinn )

friendship of the two men. No, I dont mean like Tyrone Power and Dana Andrews in Crash Dive (  1943 ) mooning over Anne Baxter. Or Cary Grant trying not to lose Deborah Kerr to Robert Mitchum in 1960’s The Grass Is Greener. Or John Wayne and Ray Milland vying for the charms and affection of Paulette Goddard in Reap the Wild Wind from 1942. Those guys have a very different vibe. C’mon, you know what Im talkin about. I mean there’s an unmistakable resentment from said wingman. Follow me now…in these two movies, the professions ( mobster and gun-slinger ) of the Alpha male and the Wing man are pretty dangerous, so you need a partner you can trust to watch your back in these life or death situations. This could be why a woman coming between them ruffles feathers.  But to me, somehow, the girl feels like a convenient plot device when clearly the relationship is between the two men.

Also mucking things up is when the Wingman ( Wendell Corey and Anthony Quinn in Desert Fury” and “Warlock” respectively ) feels he’s always been doing the heavy lifting in the relationship; HE’S the brains behind the legend. HE’S carrying the reputation: ( I’m better than you Clay,” says Quinn to Fonda and challenges him to a gunfight ). They were pals until a woman came around and Fonda wants to go straight. ( Get it…straight? Okay okay ). Mad tension’s all around. Do you feel like I’m reaching? Should I pull back? See these two movies yourself, and tell me what YOU see. If it’s my imagination, I’ll eat your hat.

( I can’t be too off because this is touched upon in BNoirDetour’s blog post as well: Here. )


I know I know, classic movies are unfair. Or we look at them unfairly. But after all they ARE from another era. They turned the LGBT experience into closeted furtive situations with killers, murderers, insinuating masseuses and venomous reporters. No one is nice and happy. No one has a loving relationship. Very few are desirable.

Screen shot 2015-06-05 at 2.08.53 AM  LAURA ( Clifton Webb )  “Someday youll find out who your friend is.    I love how comfortable Dana Andrews is.

You’ll have to wait until 1969 when gays and lesbians fight back and say No more!! to cops making unwarranted arrests at the Stonewall Bar here in NYC. STONEWALLHere’s where a movement begins, Society opens up and movies slowly start to change. Well….you really might have to wait until the 1980s when a whole spate of movies come on the scene to make the LGBT experience not look so dire and foreboding, but more like what it is…people loving people. There are a slew of films from the early-80s and onward that were positively representative of this group ( titles and photos are hot-linked below for details ). My post is not intended to be an in-depth, comprehensive view of the LGBT experience in classic film. You can read Vito Russo’s book The Celluloid Closet for more. Any one of the movies could make a post all its own. And clicking onto these thumbnails’ll take you into more explicit territory just so you know:
GAY PRIDE ( %22PERSONAL BEST%22 )   GAY PRIDE ( %22DESERT HEARTS%22 - II )   GAY PRIDE ( %22WHEN NITE'S FALLING%22 ) Personal Best                        Desert Hearts                      When Night Is Falling
                 Bound                         I Can’t Think Straight             …Two Girls in Love
Im not putting these films down either. Im having just a little fun writing about them in the context of the times they were made. These movies were of their time and I enjoy discovering and trying to pick up those Easter Eggs. We know each minority group has had to go through the thorny gauntlet of Hollywoods field of dreams. On this Gay Pride Sunday, let me take your hand, and leisurely tiptoe through all these classic tulips.
OTHER LGBTQ women throughout history.

26 thoughts on “PRIDE…in CLASSIC FILMS

  1. Right on! I love looking for those Easter eggs too. I did a post on a movie last year on that very subject. (The hinted at relationship was the only good thing about the film IMHO.)

    Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Bonnie – I’ve never cared for “Fools for Scandal” and I never thought I’d like anyone less than I liked Lee Bowman, but Gravet comes in a good close second. Apparently I didn’t pay attention to all aspects of this movie because the storyline with the two women escaped me. You’ve now given me a hook in which to check this movie out again. There are none so blind as those who cannot see. Thanks for the eye-opener. 🙂


  2. Marvin.Go see Mary Poppins; you won't be sorry, and Victor, Victoria as well! See you at Gee Whiz. on said:

    Terrific article; informative, engaging and entertaining as always!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting post and view on the subject pal. Good work! And I am with you all the way Re. Desert Fury. I wonder how it passed the censors back then.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just LOVE “Desert Fury.” I know sometimes censors are dumb clucks…but I wonder if Wendell Corey KNEW what he was getting at. Great cast all around. You know I love Lizabeth, but what can I say about Mary Astor that hasn’t already been said?


  4. Good and thoughtful post. I’m often obtuse about subtext when watching classic film, having spent so many decades being shielded by the code, I sometimes have a hard time looking past it. Thanks for highlighting what should be obvious to me by now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sub-text, schmub-text. I only have my own crackpot theories Debbie. Whatever we see and get out of these great old classics is all valid. I thank you for taking the time out to give it a read, and making a comment. Thank you very much.


  5. Mary Astor had such a range and was so good always. She’s part of the cast of most of my fave films: Dodsworth, Midnight, Palm Beach Story and her contributions to them are pivotal. She was a natural, talented, unaffected pro.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Fun and stylishly told article.

    I love getting lost in the convoluted relationships in “Warlock”. Sometimes the Morgan and Blaisedell relationship jumps right out at me, and sometimes Dorothy Malone’s Lily gets in the way. I think maybe they wanted it that way. Keep the viewer on their toes. That’s fine. I’m willing to play.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Boy am I EVER on my toes with THIS one. It’s all good, this Western. There are many lessons in “Warlock” that I take away. I particularly liked Richard Widmark’s story…trying to change the group he was involved with. But count me a Dorothy Malone fan. Thanks again for reading.


  7. One movie you didn’t mention that I’ve always thought fit into the “Wingman” category that you’ve described, although I’ve never articulated it the way you have, is Van Heflin’s character in Johnny Eager, a performance that won Heflin an Oscar.


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