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Film / "X" Marks the Spot

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X Marks The Spot is an educational short film from 1944, produced by the New Jersey Department Of Motor Vehicles, concerning the dangers of reckless and inconsiderate driving habits.

Meet Joe Doakes, the single worst driver in New Jersey. Quite possibly the worst driver in the entire world, to hear his guardian angel tell the tale. He speeds through school zones, makes turns from the wrong lane, zips into intersections without looking, and literally runs people off the road whilst passing. On hills. In the face of oncoming traffic. And, somehow, someway, it's always the other guy's fault.


This being the type of film it is, you just know Joe is heading for a bad end. In fact, Joe gets himself killed in an auto accident when his angel takes a breather and must plead his case in traffic court in the afterlife. The title itself refers to the actual spot where Joe dies.

Not to be confused with the 1931/1942 films about rubber racketeering, nor with The BBC Radio 4 game show from the late 90s, nor with the trope.

For the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode featuring this short film see here.


This short film provides examples of:

  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The film ends with the Judge addressing the audience as the jury, enlisting them to pass judgement on poor Joe but also asking them to think whether they themselves are good enough drivers to be qualified to sentence Joe. Of course, the answer is very likely "yes," making this fall rather flat — though a lot of other things, such as regular emissions checkups, are a not-so-gentle reminder.
  • Celestial Bureaucracy: We just get a little look at the divine judiciary, but a larger bureaucracy is implied by the scale of the court itself — Joe is arraigned in what appears to be a specific vehicular-offense sector in the department for the state of New Jersey.
  • Curse Cut Short / Last-Second Word Swap: See Moral Event Horizon, below.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Joe, of course. Consider:
    • Damned by Faint Praise: Joe meekly notes he never hit-and-run. Gee, Joe, you're a freakin' angel!
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    • Drunk Driver: The Angel hesitantly says that Joe "isn't what you'd call a drinker", and only ever drove with "a cocktail or two" in him. Both of them are thoroughly berated by the judge for it.
    • Hair-Trigger Temper: When behind the wheel, literally anything can (and will) set Joe off. According to the Angel, it's Up to Eleven when Joe is a pedestrian.
      Guardian Angel: As a driver, Joe thought he owned the road. As a pedestrian, he knew he owned it.
    • Never My Fault: Joe's attitude when driving. Even if the light is against him, it's not his fault.
    • Up to Eleven: Seriously, one would hope there's no way a person with Joe's driving record could possibly hold a drivers license for more than a month, let alone fifteen years. The film itself even lampshades this at one point.
  • Forced to Listen: Joe's reaction to the "accident clock" in the heavenly courtroom is treated almost as an And I Must Scream moment.
    Joe: [as clock counts upward] Stop it, stop it! Can't you stop it?
    Judge: Stop it? How I wish I could stop it.
  • Ironic Purgatory: The judge concludes that the things Joe's guardian angel suffered on-duty repaid his debt for his own driving sins in life, and declares him a free ghost. "What a relief, what a relief..."note 
  • It's All My Fault: The Guardian Angel states that Joe's death is because he looked away for one second (out of exhaustion). The Judge tells him that no one could have stuck with Joe as much as he did.
    • Subverted earlier; while the Angel admits that he was distracted at the moment when Joe decided to run diagonally across an intersection and got sent to the hospital, he regards the accident quite fondly, saying that Joe learned a valuable lesson about using crosswalks, and those two months laid up in bed gave the Angel a much-needed rest where he didn't have to worry about Joe being either a driver or pedestrian.
  • Joisey: Where the short takes place. The Guardian Angel sports a thick Joisey accent, too.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Invoked; when Joe tells the judge that he never committed a hit-and-run, the unimpressed judge explains that if Joe had, he'd have been booked [Guardian Angel harrumphs] " a lower court".
  • Pet the Dog: Joe is given a couple of these, just to prove he's not a complete lunatic. At least he learned to slow down near schools; and his guardian angel makes it clear that he's a nice enough guy outside of a car.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: Not only the film as a whole, but also a couple of internal examples:
    • At one point Joe tries to cross a street without waiting for traffic (he's no better a pedestrian than he is a driver) and takes a long stay in hospital.
    • After nearly running over a child in a school zone, Joe learns to slow down. After all, Joe has kids too.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Upon learning he no longer has to watch over idiots like Joe, the guardian angel throws his files in the air and whoops "What a relief! What a relief!" and vanishes, gleefully abandoning Joe.
  • Skewed Priorities: The commissioner puts more emphasis on the fact that injury and death in traffic hinders the war effort than on the loss of life itself.
  • Society Marches On: Joe pleads he still has a full book of A coupons (presumably for gas). Ah, World War II rationing...
  • Unwanted Assistance: Although the guardian angel tries to advocate on Joe's behalf, he's clearly fed up with having to defend the guy; as such, he often winds up admonishing Joe himself, or admitting the whole truth when the Judge prods him on the details.


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