August 18, 2011

Queer Review: The Gay Deceivers (1969)

The Gay Deceivers
Director: Bruce Kessler
Writers: Abe Polsky, Gil Lasky, and Jerome Wish.
Cast: Kevin Coughlin, Lawrence P. Casey, Michael Greer, Jack Starrett, Sebastian Brook, Brooke Bundy, Jo Ann Harris,

Taken in the right context, The Gay Deceivers is a decent enough movie about two straight guys who pretend to be queer in order to be avoid being drafted and forced to fight in Vietnam.

Danny Devlin (Kevin Coughlin) and his friend Elliot Crane (Lawrence P. Casey) decide that rather than be drafted into the army, they would rather pretend to be gay. But when Colonel Dixon (Jack Starrett) becomes suspicious, they are forced to take the ruse even further or risk being found out. So they move in with each other in a nice cottage owned by a flamboyant gay couple, Malcom (Michael Greer) and Craig (Sebastian Brook). Things take a turn for the worse when Danny's family starts to become suspicious that he really is gay and Mr. Devlin (Richard Webb) even goes so far as to have Elliot fired from his lifeguarding job.

The Queering
Context is everything and if The Gay Deceivers were to be made today, I do not know what sort of reception it would get. Back in 1969, the film was protested by gay activists for it's presentation of gays as effeminate. Today, after having to endure the indignities of Cruising and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, I found The Gay Deceivers to be relatively harmless.

In fact, in many ways The Gay Deceivers is fairly quaint in it's depiction of gay men and while much of it's value derives from the historical perspective it provides, I found myself enjoying this much more than I had expected given the premise. Granted, Malcolm and Craig are drawn using the broadest of caricature, but they are presented with just enough dignity to avoid becoming ugly stereotypes. In particular, Michael Greer, who gives the best performance in the film, manages the difficult task of making Malcolm feel like a flesh and blood human, in spite of the difficulties given to that task by the screenplay.

In any case, while I would be the last to argue that The Gay Deceivers is a paragon of brilliant writing, there are enough clever moments and minor twists peppered throughout to keep things interesting. Plus we are spared the speeches and grandstanding that plagued I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, whose premise is remarkably similar in many ways to The Gay Deceivers.

I found one of the of the strengths of this film is that it makes a subtle point of the difficulties faced by gay men in the late sixties. Granted, we are spared the true horrors of what went on back then, but by having Elliot fired simply for being gay, The Gay Deceivers provides a lesson that is worth a thousand grandstanding speeches.

While not really gay or terribly deceptive, I thought The Gay Decievers was an enjoyable bit of movie history and since it was fairly progressive for the time period, I feel comfortable offering a recommendation for anyone regardless of whether or not they have a strong interest in the history of queer cinema.

The Rating


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