This essay is Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s entry in the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, now underway from February 1 through March 2 (and inspired by the annual event observed by The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™) and sponsored by Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club, Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled, and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen.
In the 1960s, Whitman established a solid acting career as a dependable leading man in such films as Murder, Inc. (1960), The Comancheros (1961—with John Wayne), The Longest Day (1962—also with The Duke), Rio Conchos (1964) and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965). From 1967 to 1968, Stuart starred in the ninety-minute TV western Cimarron Strip, a series that developed a cult following and was a Saturday morning staple on Encore Westerns a few years ago. (Whitman also played Jonathan Kent, the adoptive father of young Clark Kent on the 1988-92 syndicated boob tube program Superboy.)
This presents a number of problems for the protagonist—chiefly the possibility that his past crime will be exposed. Complicating all this is that both he and Ruth have entered into a relationship; Ruth is a widow…with a young daughter, Janie (Amanda Black). Despite his unease in light of his previous conviction, Jim eventually becomes comfortable in Janie’s presence. He takes the girl to a carnival…and it is there that a tabloid reporter named Austin (Donald Huston) snaps a picture of the two of them—the publication of which sends Jim’s life into a downward spiral.
(Whitman speculated in a commentary for the DVD’s release in 2001 that Burton might have arranged to be kept busy in the play because he was nervous about the subject matter.) Stuart was filming a screen test with Lee Remick when his agent told him to get on a plane for Europe, tuit suite. The actor hadn’t even had a chance to look at the script (adapted by Stanley Mann and Sidney Buchman, who also co-produced) until he was ensconced in his hotel suite, and after reading it realized it was the acting opportunity of a lifetime. Though The Mark was a 20th Century Fox production, much of the filming was done at Ardmore Studios in Ireland; former cinematographer Guy Green, who had previously won an Oscar for his work on Great Expectations (1946), put Whitman and his fellow thesps through their paces (Green would later go on to helm Light in the Piazza  and A Patch of Blue ).
He’s able to convey marvelously the tentativeness of Jim Fuller, a man who despite having paid his debt to society is often uncertain of himself, worried that his release may have been premature. Whitman makes Fuller a sympathetic individual…though in all fairness, he gets an assist from a slight deviation from the source material; in the novel, Fuller/Fontaine was a pedophile—but in the film, the protagonist is guilty only of kidnapping a minor and attempting sexual assault (he’s able to stop himself from completing the vile deed, but offers no defense at his trial because he realizes he’s sick and needs help). (For an interesting example of a film that does feature a reformed pedophile as the main character, the 2004 film The Woodsman is worth checking out.)
It’s a mystery as to why Maria didn’t also receive Oscar consideration for her fine performance in Mark; her Ruth Leighton is warm and loving, and tenderly supportive of Jim even after she’s been made aware of the newspaper photograph (and the accompanying story, which provides vivid details of Fuller’s previous proclivities). This support disappears in an instant, however, when daughter Janie, after spending the night at a friend’s house, runs to Jim because she’s happy to see him…and is stopped by Ruth’s startled cry of “Jamie…no!!!”
(As McNally so memorably explains to his patient: “I can help you…but I can’t solve your problems.”) Steiger’s sympathetic turn as McNally is an interesting change-of-pace (Whitman remarks on the DVD commentary that a number of psychiatrists and med students told him they use the McNally character as a primer in dealing with those problems) from the less-than-flattering portrayals of these same professionals on shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
In a less competitive year, the actor might have pulled off an upset; even then, winner Schell told him when showing him his Oscar “This should have been yours”…and explaining to him that he (Whitman) carried his entire picture while Schell’s screen time was somewhat limited. Schell’s sister Maria wrote Whitman a letter shortly after the nominees were announced, telling him that while she was very fond of him she was completely torn over which actor would get her vote. Decide for yourself whether or not Stuart could have been “a contendah”; though the VCI DVD is now out-of-print, TCM will air this sleeper on February 21st at 1pm EST. (Due to mature subject matter, viewer discretion is advised.)