Jul 31, 2019

Kurt Russell's Secret

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 Boy (others included Peter McEneryTommy KirkTim 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.

The two are presented as more intimate than mere buddies, framed in tight shots, their faces together in close ups. While they are sleeping on the heather, Rich hears a suspicious noise, and wakes Sean by moving his own body slightly. Although all we see are their faces and necks, to wake someone with such a small gesture means that they must be cuddling together. They rescue each other a dozen times, and are eventually rescued by big brother Tom.

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 bantr 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.

There are nude photos of Kurt Russell on Tales of West Hollywood

See also: Kurt Russell


  1. This was available on video in the 80s as "Guns in the Heather".

  2. Russell and Dawson make a cute couple and the movie can be seeing on you tube

  3. I was so clueless as a child, that scene would have gone right over my head. I wish I had been more tuned in. I missed out on a lot, just because I didn't pay attention.

  4. Woh I enjoy your articles, saved to fav!

  5. I watched the movie for a second time on YouTube and while I did get a situational gay vibe, Russell and Dawson acted pretty straight. Yeah, they make a cute couple but the scene of them sleeping in the heather showed the pair resting until they heard the baying dogs. Russell nudges Dawson awake but they do not appear to be cuddling but rather exhausted from the relentless pursuit of the bad guys. As for the scene with the waitress, she comments that renting a room for just a "wee bit of a nap" seems foolish but both boys seem to be flirting with her (just like the maid at Boyne Castle toward the end of the film). More telling is the following scene when the villains' have located the pair and the waitress enters their room backwards in case the pair are sleeping in the raw (which Russell quickly assures her they are dressed and it is okay to look). It is a good adolescent buddy-bonding film but a second viewing through a queer lens made it just that. I guess there is gay subtext if a viewer extrapolates it but I just saw two buddies having a classic late 1960s spy chase through the Irish countryside.

    1. I was seven, and it was the 1960s. You found subtexts wherever you could.


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