We usually went to church on Sunday nights, but for some reason I was home one night in November 1968 to see the last half of the best movie ever made, The Secret of Boyne Castle, on the anthology series Wonderful World of Color.
This was former child star Kurt Russell's only movie as a Disney Adventure Boys (others included Peter McEnery, Tommy Kirk, Tim Considine, and Jeff East) before he moved on to playing oddball outsider Dexter Riley in a series of Disney comedies.
Here Kurt plays Rich, an American exchange student in Dublin who learns that his older brother Tom (bisexual muscleman Glenn Corbett, previously a model for Physique Pictorial and star of Route 66) is not a steel company executive after all, but a spy charged with delivering essential information to Boyne Castle, in the west of Ireland. When Tom is captured by Russian agents, Rich must take over the mission, racing through the quaint villages and lush green hills of Ireland, hoping to elude capture and reach Boyne Castle before the Russians. Fellow student Sean (long-faced, steely-eyed Patrick Dawson) tags along, throwing himself into deadly danger for no logical reason except that he rather likes Rich.
But the most important scene, the scene I have remembered fondly for 40 years:At an inn, Rich flirts with a waitress.
“You didn’t tell me you had an eye for the ladies!” Sean exclaims, as if he hadn’t anticipated any competition.
Rich responds by asking the waitress if she has any rooms to rent for “for a few hours.” Suspicious, she wants to know why the two boys would need a room for such a short period.
Rich and Sean exchange a knowing grin.
In 1968 I was entranced by that grin. I knew that it was a clue to the secret. If only I could decipher it, I could find my way to that other world, Oz or Living Island or Middle Earth, the world where boys could fall in love and got married.
How might we account for the not-so-subtle homoerotic badinage between the Rich and Sean? Certainly Glenn Corbett might be a gay ally: he began as a model for the Athletic Model Guild, the Advocate Men of its day, and made a career as a buddy-bonding “man’s man. Kurt Russell was never particularly gay-friendly. Patrick Dawson works mostly in Irish radio, but his limited filmography includes the gay-vague Ginger in The Jigsaw Man (1983). We should look at the director, Robert Butler, who in the 1960’s specialized in dramas with strong male leads, such as Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, and I Spy, and later directed such hunk-fests as Remington Steele, Moonlighting, and Lois and Clark. Whether he was working with Bruce Willis, Dean Cane, Pierce Brosnan, or Kurt Russell, Butler neither minimized nor hid their physicality, allowing and even directing them to be open as objects of desire, both to male viewers and to each other.