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Weird Old Car Shorts: ‘X Marks the Spot’

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X Marks the Spot
This photo might actually have higher production values than the short…
Photo: Pixabay via CC

Ah yes, the theatrical/educational short. Briefly, most films released to theaters before the 1960s began with a short subject. These shorts ranged from news reels relating the headlines of the day to classic cartoons from the likes of Warner Bros. and Disney. Other shorts were produced as educational tools, and were sent to schools, factories, and businesses across America. As luck would have it for our purposes here at The News Wheel, many of them were car-related. In this review, we’re taking a look at one of the weirdest of the lot: a strange 1944 cautionary tale called X Marks the Spot.

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A look at ‘X Marks the Spot’

In the 1940s, fatal traffic accidents in America were on the rise. These statistics were particularly troubling in New Jersey, which reported a loss of life nearing 20,000 drivers annually. In 1944, the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles decided to do something about the issue. They teamed with the Jam Handy Organization to create a short PSA with a full plot and characters. The result was X Marks the Spot.

After an expository prologue, we’re introduced to the film’s lead character: a fellow named Joe Doakes. Joe is the consummate “bad motorist,” constantly blowing red lights, yelling at other cars, and being all-around reckless. One day, Joe’s bad driving habits finally catch up with him, and he suffers a fatal car accident. This is where things get weird.

As the police survey the scene, Joe’s ghostly spirit rises from his corpse. He is then greeted by his guardian angel. The angel — who looks like a normal guy wearing a graduation cap and gown — brings poor Joe to an ethereal courtroom in the afterlife. There, a judge who may or may not be God begins a trial to determine Joe’s fate. As it turns out, the only reason Joe wasn’t already dead was because his angel had saved his bacon over and over again. It’s also revealed that Joe was guilty of just about every kind of reckless automobile-related act known to mankind. From speeding and nearly hitting a kid to drunk driving and delayed maintenance, it’s clear Joe was an accident waiting to happen.

The 20-minute short concludes with the judge leaving Joe’s fate in the hands of the viewer. Should he be given a second chance at life, or denied the ability to ever drive again? Only you can decide.

Why it’s weird

If the above synopsis sounds strange, the act of actually watching X Marks the Spot is even stranger. There’s an odd feeling of morbidity that seems to contradict the period in which the film was made. Of course, this was the point; the film was designed to be a life-saving PSA, after all. Nevertheless, the idea of a reckless motorist being sent to a heavenly court to be judged for his sucky driving is a supremely bizarre plot.

If you’re interested in checking this weird little short out, it can be viewed here thanks to its public domain status. If you’re looking for a less-boring, more comedic viewing experience, watch this version and prepare to laugh.

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So what do you, the reader, think of our friend Joe Doakes? If his fate were up to you, would you send him back to Earth or keep him as far away from a car as possible? Let us know below!