Jul 22, 2013

Richard Arlen: First Gay Kiss in the Movies

I just saw The Island of Lost Souls (1932), an adaption of the H.G. Wells science fiction novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, about a mad scientist who turns animals into humans through vivisection.  Richard Arlen plays Edward Parker, a young man who stumbles onto the nefarious plot, and falls in love with a panther girl, but ends up returning to his fiancee.

Guess what?  The original novel had no panther girl and no fiancee.  Edward never displays the slightest heterosexual interest.  Nor does anyone else.

Richard Arlen (1899-1976), who was quite the hunk in his day, made hundreds of movies, mostly two-fisted actioners.  Apparently a  good number introjected heterosexism into neutral or gay-subtext projects.  I've only seen a few:





The silent movie Wings (1927), which features the first gay male kiss in mainstream movies, is "really" about two pilots (Richard, Jack Powell) in love with the same woman.










The Four Feathers (1929) is based on a novel by A.E.W. Mason, about British officers bonding in the Sudan.  There's a girl in it, but only a minor character, not the Goal of the Adventure.











Legion of Lost Fliers (1939) is based on a story by Ben Pivar about a group of brawny pilots making their way across the frozen north, but it adds The Girl.

During the 1950s, Richard Arlen began appearing on tv, mostly in Westerns: Yancy Derringer, Wagon Train, Bat Masterson.  He appeared in the buddy-bonding military comedy The Last Time I Saw Archie (1961), but not as one of the buddies (they were Robert Mitchum and Jack Webb).

He died in 1976, after nearly two hundred movies and tv series over a period of 60 years.