Jul 13, 2014

Mark Lester after Oliver

Every kid I knew was forced to see Oliver! in 1968.  Our parents had the impression that musicals were somehow educational, and besides, it was Dickens.

Most of the kids I knew disliked it.  After all, it was a musical. About child abuse, domestic violence, and other fun stuff.   I found the heterosexist "true love" plot boring, but I liked the buddy-bonding between the streetwise Artful Dodger (15-year old Jack Wild, right) and the cherubic innocent Oliver (10-year old Mark Lester, left).

I followed Jack Wild onto H. R. Pufnstuf, but I heard nothing more about Mark Lester for many years. During the early 2000s, I was writing an article on demonic children in the movies, and I found that the cherub spent his pubescence playing violent or creepy, or both.  His characters seemed uncomfortable with their bodies, ravaged by uncontrollable desires, and obsessively heterosexual.

In Eyewitness (1970), also released as Sudden Terror, 12-year old Ziggy (Mark) witnesses a murder on the Mediterranean island of Malta,  and is pursued by the killer.  He goes on the lam, along with his girlfriend.

In Melody (1971), 10-year old Daniel (Mark) falls in love with a girl and decides to marry her. The adults disapprove of a 10-year old getting married, but it's the heart of the counterculture, and "true love" is always right.

In What the Peeper Saw (1972), also released as Night Hair Child and Diabolica malicia, 14-year old Marcus (Mark) is sexually attracted to his father's new wife (Britt Eklund).  She shares his interest, and they have sex. They conspire to kill Dad so they can be together. But is she really conspiring to kill Marcus? 

In Who Slew Auntie Roo (1972), 14-year old Christopher (Mark)  tries to rescue his sister from the demented Mrs. Forrest (Shelley Winters), who is holding her prisoner in the attic. 

Love Under the Elms (1975) was originally titled La prima volta sull' erba, "the first time on the grass." While visiting Italy, Mark meets a girl, and they have sex a lot. It ends badly, but if you want to see frontal nudity, this is the one.

Not many gay kids saw these movies -- they were all rated R for violence and sex

Mark strips down to a swimsuit or his underwear, or is accosted in the bathtub, in all of his violent/creepy movies, but with all the heterosexual longing going on, there's not much time for homoerotic subtexts. After Oliver!, I found one only in Senza ragione (1973), also known as Redneck. 

Lennox (Mark)  is kidnapped by two crooks, the evil Memphis (Telly Savalas) and the hunky Mosquito (Franco Nero, left).   Lennox bonds with Mosquito and they run away together, and spend the night, with rear nudity and a strong implication of sex between them.  But does Lennox really like the gangster, or is he plotting?  It ends badly.

Mark Lester also starred in some costume dramas that didn't require creepy sexuality.  He retired from acting in 1977, studied osteopathy, and opened an acupuncture clinic in England.