Saturday, 19 March 2011

Best Actor 1961: Stuart Whitman in The Mark

Stuart Whitman received his only Oscar nomination for portraying Jim Fontaine/Fuller in The Mark.

The Mark is a rather difficult film to track down, so I was actually glad when I found out it is a fairly good film. It must not be well seen film since many quick mentions of the film I have found misidentify the main character as a pedophile. It is true he comes very close to being one, but he stops himself. The film is frank and effective discussion of this topic through a character study. Having watched this and A Patch of Blue I am starting see Guy Green as a talented and very sensitive filmmaker that is quite under appreciated.

The Mark is rather strange in that it is rather obscure despite taking on a very controversial and unusual subject matter for its time which usually gain films a notoriety of some sort. Perhaps it would have been with the original casting Richard Burton in the lead role, but I must say it is perhaps better for the quality of the film itself that Whitman was the one eventually cast. I say this is that Burton is perhaps to individualistic looking, whereas Stuart Whitman could be just about anyone which works very well for the role. He does not look like a sexual deviant, and it really works because of this.

Whitman is an actor I will admit, I have actually seen films with him in it, like the Longest Day, but I never noticed him in these films. I do not think this was really his fault he just really did not have any parts that would or could create any notoriety, well here he has a very complex and interesting role. Jim Fontaine at the beginning of the film has just been released from prison, with a new name of Jim Fuller and another chance at life. Whitman is really effective early on, as he is clearly off kilter, and very nervous to re-enter society. He shows that he is always trying to be calm, but is a little naturally awkward, as well as it hiding a secret about himself.

Whitman does what is perfect and needed is that he creates sympathy for Fuller here. He shows him to be basically a normal guy who has a sad past, which we don't know yet, but Whitman is able to really create the right sympathy for his character to stop the audience from outright rejecting him later on as more of who he is revealed. Whitman does not overplay his character at all to gain sympathy, and does have an outburst here and there, when people ask too much about his past. Whitman though shows these outbursts as a natural reaction that the character must hide his past, and is just as natural, in his apologies quickly afterward.

The truth of the character is slowly revealed in that he had a troubled sexual past triggered by his relationship with his parents. He is unable to connect with older women, and goes to exceedingly younger women, and eventually girls. These scenes  of his are revealed through sessions with his Psychiatrist effectively portrayed by Rod Steiger, in both in the present and flashbacks with the not all recovered Jim. Whitman effectively shows the differences between Fontaine and Fulller though as he is angry, very confused, overly frustrated in the past, but just as effective showing a very much changed Fuller, even if still strained he shows him to be a now quieter calmer man, with a greater understanding of himself.

Whitman has an incredible challenge to really show this as a serious problem that has developed in his character's psyche over his childhood, but he manages showing that it really was a complex problem for this man. A particular challenge for Whitman is the pivotal scene where his character does almost commit the horrendous act. A challenge for any actor, but Whitman is superb in presenting the sheer unsuitability of the character in this scene, as the thoughts of his character are rushing through his head. It is a scene that could have been completely unwatchable, if Jim was at all portrayed wrongly, but Whitman utterly delivers.

Whitman is just as effective as he works naturally with developing the character's actual growth in understanding other women, and properly develops Jim's romantic relationship with Maria Schell's character and the daughter of her character. The relationship with the daughter is key, because yes there is awkwardness, but Whitman has worked this out not to show Jim as a man who fully understands how to behave, but is doing with earnest his best to create a proper honest relationship with this little girl.

The whole concept of this film and this character really could have been just evil, just disgusting, or just bad, but thanks to Whitman and Guy Green's delicate direction it works. Whitman did make me care for this man throughout his journey, especially when everyone takes him for a complete pedophile at the end and his life falls apart. Whitman performance works because he never portrayed him as just a creep, but actually an honestly disturbed man, who has now changed after much needed help. Whitman's work his subtle, and very effective work that creates an effective honest, complex portrait of this man.


Anonymous said...

I just found this online, so I'm going to watch it tonight because I am fascinatingly interested.

dshultz said...

This looks like a very good film. I think I'll watch it.

dinasztie said...

Wow. I didn't see this coming. I really want to see it. :D

joe burns said...

It sounds great! I'm guessing he'll win.

Anonymous said...

Stuart Whitman did not win the Oscar for his role in this film. It went to Maria Schell's brother, Maximillian for his role in "Judgement in Nuremberg". Whitman was a particularly fine actor in his early films and TV series "Cimarron Strip". Early on he starred with the likes of Ethel Barrymore, Joanne Woodward, Yul Brynner, Gary Cooper, Roddy McDowell, Lauren Hutton, John Wayne, etc. It seems his career waned after 1970, and he secured roles mostly on television series, and B movies.

The copy of "The Mark" I tracked down has a feature with commentary by both the director, Guy Green and one with Whitman (he was 70 when he did the commentary on the film). After watching the film, I watched it again with Whitman's commentary. Great stories about the making of the movie as well as his life!

Brett Butler said...

Mr. Whitman died last week and I am both happy and surprised to read that a 'nice guy' like Stuart was given such an interesting role. That he did subtle good work is even better. It's too bad that his career ambled to B stuff after "The Mark", but how happy that he was 92 and much loved when he did cross over. Pax et lux.