"The Consequence," a grimly ludicrous, inconclusive German import about an illicit homosexual affair, seems to need a catchier title, among other improvements. "Another Fine Mess" or "Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire" leap readily to mind.

Now on display at the K-B Janus, "The Consequence" was originally shown on Germany television in 1977. Evidently, it created a minor rumpus, no doubt because of the general social touchiness of the subject rather than the expressive potency of director Wolfgang Petersen, a banal drudge if there ever was one.

The unhappy chronicle commences with a failed suicide attempt. We see a groggy young man teeter over the side of a solitary rowboat in the middle of a lake. In the next scene he's discovered in a hospital bed, and the attending physician shows his stuff by informing a Worried Visitor, "You can't take 60 sleeping pills for nothing."

No, indeed, not at today's prices. However, one never learns how the apparent victim managed to survive his header into the lake, and those 60 sleeping pills tend to deepen the mystery. Who pulled the poor boy out?

The script backtracks in a drab, special-pleading effort to account for the suicidal teaser. The central character is revealed to be the Worried Visitor, reintroduced a few years earlier as an actor named Martin Kurath, played with boring earnestness by Jurgen Prochnow, who has been imprisoned on a six offense, "seduction of a minor," a 15-year-old boy.

Martin is no sooner settled into his cell than he finds theatrical opportunity and underage sexual temptation beckoning anew. He is recruited to direct an original play by one of the inmates (who helpfully remarks, "The title is 'Hopeless.' It's a tragedy.") The play includes a prominent role for a teen-ager, and the part goes not to a prisoner but to the son of a prison guard.

Reenter our potential suicide as a 16-year-old named Thomas Manzoni, played by Ernst Hannawald, who looks like Debbie Boone crossed with Kurt Russell and wastes no time batting his eyes at the glumly susceptible Martin.

Although it's perfectly clear what the kid is after, it's difficult to see why someone in Martin's legally compromised position would run the risk of satisfying his curiosity -- particularly when the older man is portrayed as such a repressed personality and seems to lack aggressive sex drives of his own.

Of course, Martin's dogged passivity may be one of the little deceits which Petersen and the original author, Alexander Ziegler, found necessary to generate any sort of sympathy for his avowed sexual itch in the first place.

Thomas, who apparently enjoys the run of the prison, makes it impossible for Martin to resist by sneaking into his cell for an overnight tryst -- a bit of a whopper as one-night stands go.

After Martin is paroled, Thomas precipitates an ongoing crisis by running away from home to live with him. Far from pleasing the gravity of his own situation or arranging matters in some discreetly clandestine fashion, Martin decides to appeal to the non-existent sophistication of the boy's intimidating pop and browbeaten mum, provoking a "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" confrontation of rare, surreal hilarity.

The Manzonis decide that a reformatory would suit Thomas better. So now it's Thomas on the inside, subjected to the sadistic taunts of his fellows.

Love letters to and from Martin are confiscated by a bullying "housefather" named Diethelm, embodied by a crew-cut, thickset actor named Werner Schwuchow in what may be enjoyed as an unintentional parody of Ernest Borgnine's Sgt. Fatso Judson in "From Here to Eternity." Diethelm is given a pet atrocity that might have startled vicious Fatso: He is alleged to gouge boys with sugar cubes, a perversion that presumably accounts for the dueling scar on Thomas' cheek in the later stages of the film.

Martin poses as a psychologist in an attempt to spring Thomas from the reformatory, then loses him to a boy-snatching politician while seeking official help. In his Dear Martin letter Thomas confides, "I promise you, I'll kill myself." Eventually, the continuity wends its way back to the point to where he tried and failed. Cleverly resorting to a what-next? fadeout, Petersen leaves the continuing saga of Martin and Thomas drearily unresolved. Maybe it's a series by now.

"The Consequence" seems the most idiotic movie with a homosexual "theme" since "Sebastiane." The emotional, social and moral consequences are totally diminished by Petersen's expedient plotting and lackluster touch. It's a waste of effort attaching any significance to languishing dummkopfs like Martin and Thomas.

"Gay" is about the last adjective in the language one would think of when contemplating this ill-advised, ill-fated love affair. And "The Consequence" is surely the sort of movie calculated to give gayness a depressing name.