Dirk Bogarde, so-named by his agent, was a dashing leading man who ran from his cheesecake roles as soon as his contract with the Rank Organisation ended in 1960 to explore deeper, darker characters.
Born Derek Niven van den Bogaerde in London in 1921, Bogarde served as an “Air Photographic Interpreter” in the British Army during WWII, reaching the rank of Major, where he assisted in picking strategic bombing targets, I went to see quite a lot of them, I mean I went back to the villages, and saw what I had done. Bogarde witnessed the horrors of war first-hand and was one of the first Allied officers to reach the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1941, an experience he likened to looking at Dante’s Inferno in one his memoirs (Bogarde wrote seven best-selling memoirs, six novels, and published a book of collected journalism).
Bogarde spent many years living with fellow-actor Anthony Forwood but their relationship as lovers was never spoken of for any number of reasons, the least of which being male homosexual acts were viewed as criminal acts in his time. Some speculate that his choice to remain unmarried kept him from becoming a Hollywood star.
Dirk Bogarde starred in some of my favorite films playing a fascinating cast of complex characters in some fascinating complex films. Here are my top 5.
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in his first English language film, and based on the novel of the same name by Vladimir Nabokov adapted for the screen by Tom Stoppard, Despair tells the story of Hermann Hermann, a Berliner born into comfort during the Weimar Republic, whose life slowly dissolves into a nightmare from which Hermann is desperate to escape. Desperation leads to madness and some of the most intense views, thanks to Fassbinder’s eye, into dissociation and despair.
The Servant (1963)
Directed by Joseph Losey and written by Harold Pinter, the first of three Losey-Pinter collaborations, The Servant also stars James Fox in his big screen debut as a Tony, a tony Brit who hires Hugo Barrett (Bogarde) as his manservant (when’s the last time you heard that word). Barrett brings his lover, played by Sarah Miles, into the picture whom he presents as his sister, and things slowly fall to steamy pieces requiring more than the hired help to put right.
Why can’t poor Dirk have a normal relationship? Directed by John Schlesinger (Billy Liar, Midnight Cowboy, Marathon Man, and many more) and staring Julie Christie, Dirk Bogarde and Laurence Harvey, Darling is a twisty, turny twisted tale written by Frederic Raphael, who also wrote the screenplay for Kubrick’s last film Eyes Wide Shut, wherein Christie plays a beautiful young (married) model who falls for Bogarde, a literary type, gets bored, and lets the rich and powerful Harvey take over. Entirely entertaining and worth the watch for the look and language alone.
Death in Venice (1971)
Based on the novella by Thomas Mann and directed by Luchino Visconti, Bogarde plays Gustav von Aschenbach, a composer convalescing in a plague-ridden Venice where he becomes obsessed with young Tadzio’s beauty, portrayed by a young Björn Andrésen. Desire, decay, and death in Venice.
The Damned (1969)
Bogarde and Visconti team up again for a tale of depravity and moral decay. The wealthy industrialist von Essenbeck family see an opportunity to gain more power and wealth with the help of the Nazi Party, murder, and treachery. Filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s favorite film, The Damned is reminiscent of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo where the director appears to descend into madness along with his movie. Also staring Helmut Berger and a young Charlotte Rampling who went on to star with Bogarde in the controversial The Night Porter.