Dirk Bogarde: More Than Just a Doctor

March 28, 2020

Derek Jules Gaspard Ulric Niven van den Bogaerde would have been a twinkly 99 years old this month. Although possibly best remembered for his “Doctor” stint in five adaptions of the Richard Gordon novels, Bogarde was an actor unafraid to risk his stardom on more confrontational roles. He played a former SS officer with a sadomasochistic kink in 1974’s The Night Porter, and 1961’s Victim – made with director Basil Dearden– was instrumental in changing public attitude to homosexuality. While The Damned (1969), Providence (1977) and The Servant (1963) are the more celebrated examples of Bogarde’s screen presence, his back-catalogue is studded with hidden gems. 

The Mind Benders (1963)

A precursor to 1965’s The Ipcress File, The Mind Benders (1963) was an early entry in the Cold War “brain drain” subgenre. After a radical professor (Harold Goldblatt) commits suicide by jumping from a train, the authorities suspect foul play, and work with the dead man’s colleague Dr Henry Longman (Bogarde) to determine whether the professor had been the victim of Soviet brainwashing. Longman is sure his peer’s altered state of mind was due to time spent in a sensory deprivation tank – and to prove it, he undergoes a prolonged underwater isolation experiment of his own. What follows is a Dr Jekyll-like transformation, and an excuse for Bogarde to show off some tortured expressions as he emerges from his frogman suit a rampant misogynist. Will supervising investigator Major Hall (John Clements) and his assistant Dr Tate (Michael Bryant) salvage Longman’s personality, or is our hero – and the pregnant wife (Mary Ure) they turned him against – doomed? 

Hot Enough for June* (1964) 

With filmgoers’ appetites whetted for espionage thanks to Dr No (1962) and From Russia with Love (1963), director Ralph Thomas helmed his own spy caper about a layabout ordered behind the Iron Curtain. Beginning with an in-joke that sees intelligence recruiter John LeMesurier announce the death of James Bond, we follow slobby journalist Nicholas Whistler (Dirk Bogarde) as he’s sent to a job interview by his local labour exchange. His new boss picks up on Whistler’s ability to speak conversational Czech, and whisks him over to Prague to take notes on the state glass manufacturer. But Whistler doesn’t realise his job’s a cover, and that he’s now wearing 007’s gadget-tipped shoes. Riffing on both the emergent counter-culture and the stuffy ranks of post-war intelligence, Hot Enough for June (or Agent 8 34 as it was released in the US) is at its funniest when Bogarde has to adopt implausible disguises: milkman, carnival worker, and the iconic tux while riding a commuter train. It makes you wonder what might have been had the Rank Organisation got their way, and adapted Fleming’s books as a vehicle for Bogarde. 

The Vision (1988)

Having explored both brainwashing and counter-surveillance, there was one more form of mind control left for Bogarde to delve into: televangelism. The Vision was part of BBC’s Screen Two drama series, and in 1988 was able to unite Bogarde with Lee Remick (and a young Helena Bonham Carter) in this tale of viewer manipulation. Bogarde plays washed-up TV host James Marriner, who agrees to front a flagship show for new broadcaster the People Channel, and restore credibility with his wife (Eileen Atkins). Drawing on both Videodrome (1983) and the then explosion in satellite programming, The Vision was Bogarde’s first BBC drama in over thirty years, and feels prophetic in today’s era of fake news. Look out for Fawlty Towers’ Bruce Boa – AKA the guest who orders the famous Waldorf Salad – as a cantankerous network president who suspects Marriner has a conscience.

George Bass Contributor New York Times | The Guardian | New Scientist

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  1. Anthony Wynn Reply

    Dirk Bogarde also had a terrific role in the 1963 film “I Could Go On Singing” (“The Lonely Stage” in the UK) where he held his own very nicely opposite the legendary Judy Garland – and, incidentally, also played a doctor.

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