The Scar (1948)

“You’re just a wild bundle raring to go.”

When John Muller (Paul Henreid) is released from prison, instead of going to Los Angeles to accept arranged, honest employment, he returns to his old gang. He’s amazed and disgusted to find that most of them have jobs, but it’s not long before he persuades them to discard their 9-5 schedules and pull off a lucrative heist in a gambling den. But nothing goes according to plan, and Muller is soon on his way to Los Angeles with a vengeful gambling den owner in pursuit. Muller tries to lead a normal life, and then one day he accidentally discovers a psychiatrist, Dr. Victor Bartok, who could be his exact double–except for the long scar on Bartok’s cheek. Muller insinuates himself into the life of Bartok’s attractive secretary, Evelyn Hahn (Joan Bennett) and he begins to study Dr. Bartok’s habits.

The Scar AKA Hollow Triumph is a marvelous example of 40s film noir. There’s a desperation and hopelessness to Muller’s plans, and it’s pervasive enough to set the film’s atmosphere. Paul Henreid makes a good villain, and yet there’s also a great sympathetic strain for this man. In the past, he’s attended medical school and studied psychiatry. His intelligence is not in question; there’s some flaw in his character that has made him turn out badly. Muller studies Bartok with dogged determination, and his intense attention to detail even sparks a certain admiration for Muller’s character. The fact that he’s a double for a successful, unpleasant psychiatrist serves to underscore the notion that Muller has somehow or another been dealt a bad hand by society. Is there really a great deal of difference between Bartok and Muller? One is a successful man, and the other is a horrible failure. They look identical–except for the scar, but interestingly enough, even their personalities don’t seem so different, and it’s all too easy for Muller to step into Bartok’s shoes.

Joan Bennett as Bartok’s secretary, Evelyn is hard-edged, disillusioned and tough. She doesn’t want to get hurt and she looks at love as a disease she can’t afford to catch. There’s no femme fatale in the film, but Evelyn’s morality is on the line. There are hints that her relationship with Bartok is quite complex, and one scene suggests they are more than just employer/employee. Evelyn falls into a romantic relationship with Muller even though the warning signals are loud and clear. Muller seems to offer her something that Bartok doesn’t, and this plays into the underlying idea that Muller and Bartok are not so different, and in fact, Muller may in some ways have more appeal.

The Scar is an excellent story that explores many facets of human nature, and the plot delivers surprises along the way. I own the Alpha DVD, and it’s not bad quality. The picture was actually shaking for the opening credits, and this did not bode well. But by the time the film began, the shaking stopped. The picture remained dark and grainy, but this did not interfere with my enjoyment. Fans of film noir will enjoy this dark tale of despair. From director Steve Sekely.

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