Monday, February 8, 2016

The Mark

I don't think I've ever had the opportunity to do a full-lengnth blog post on the 1961 film The Mark before. It's airing tomorrow at 1:15 PM on TCM, and is certainly worth seeing.

Stuart Whitman stars as Jim Fuller, a man living in the UK who has just been released from prison after a couple of years after being convicted for attempted child molestation. Back then, they didn't have registries they stuck people on for every "sexual" offense under the sun, and once somebody had served one's sentence, there wasn't all that much the authorities could do. Except that at least in this case, Jim has spent a lot of his time in prison in group therapy led by Dr. McNally (Rod Steiger), woh thinks that Jim is ready to be re-integrated back into society. Jim has been found a job at a firm where the only two people who know about Jim's past are his boss Clive (Donald Wolfit) and his secretary Ruth (Maria Schell) who knows he was in prison but not why.

Jim tries to turn his life around, and seems to be doing reasonably well. He's found a nice place to stay, lodging with an older couple (Brenda de Banzie and Maurice Denham), doing a capable job at work, and even starting a tentative relationship with Ruth. There's a bit of a problem, however, in that Ruth is a widow, a Swiss woman who married an English man, and who has a daughter who is about the same age as the little girl Jim tried to molest back in the day. Compounding the issue is that the little girl genuinely seems to like Jim.

But, of course, you know that something is going to go wrong. Jim still feels uncomfortable if he goes past a schoolyard, but it's really events on the outside that are going to come after him. There's a brutal case of a child being lured and ultimately killed by some sort of adult male predator, so the authoities start calling any leads they can think of for questioning, which pretty much includes anybody who had been in prison for predatory actions against children, something which includes Jim. That's an inconvenience, but far worse is the fact that there's a newspaper reporter around who sees Jim and puts two and two together. Jim doesn't want the reporter to cover the story, but the reporter writes for one of those British-style tabloids where scaremongering stories are the order of the day, so of course the story becomes public, turning Jim's life upside down.

The Mark is, I think, the sort of movie that would never get made these days. We are clearly meant to have sympathy for Jim despite his past, especially because he's trying to put his life in order and deal with whatever it is inside him that caused him to do the things that sent him to prison. Today, he'd be on a register and doomed for life, and anybody who suggested he should be would be hectored by bunches of mothers screaming why do you hate children. Still, Whitman gives an excellent performance, one which earned him an Oscar nomination. Ironically, he lost to the brother of his co-star, Maximilian Schell, for his performance in Judgment at Nuremburg. The story in The Mark also has an ending that I think is a bit too pat, but the way the story gets where it's going is still pretty darn good.

I don't think The Mark is in print on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the all-too-rare TCM showings.

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