Lee Marvin is in full antihero mode as remorseless Walker, talking the talk and walking the walk in John Boorman’s (Deliverance) edgy neo-noir classic filled with imaginative New Wave style, blunt dialogue and Walker’s relentless quest that, one by one, smashes into the corporate pecking order of a crime group called the Organization. Angie Dickinson plays the accomplice who uses her seductive wiles to ensnare one of Walker’s prey. “I want my 93 grand,” Walker growls at him. Throughout, the payoff to that demand is action that “hits like a fat slug from the .38 Lee Marvin uses as an extension of his fist” (Newsweek).
Point Blank 7.75
eyelights: Lee Marvin. John Boorman’s direction. John Vernon. its well-executed meat and potatoes crime story. Walker’s persistence and street smarts.
eyesores: the jagged editing style. the overused but undervalued Angie Dickinson.
“Somebody’s got to pay.”
I would never have paid attention to ‘Point Blank’ if I hadn’t at some time discovered that it was based on Richard Stark’s Parker book ‘The Hunter’. Having become a major fan of Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novels adaptations, I was immediately intrigued by the notion of seeing a motion picture version of one of these tales.
Release in 1967, the Lee Marvin vehicle (he not only stars in it but also helped put it together) was director John Boorman’s second feature length film, and is considered by many as a masterpiece, even though it was largely ignored at the time; it was apparently an innovative motion picture, structurally and stylistically.
Personally, seeing it nearly fifty years after the fact, and having no film studies, I didn’t have that perspective. But I very much enjoyed it nonetheless. Although its structure is a bit jarring even to this day (at the time, the studio heads were considering re-shoots), I feel that the bulk of the picture is a terrific thriller.
The tale is simple: Walker (not Parker, for some reason), has been double-crossed during a heist by both his best friend and his girl-friend and was left for dead in the empty shell of Alcatraz. He has managed, however, to escape and has returned with only one thing in mind: getting the 93,000$ to him. With a side order of revenge.
The picture starts with a flashback, explaining the backstory, and this is where the editing was annoying: It jumped back and forth in a jarring fashion. It wasn’t quite clear what was going on at first, and even this is in question today, with some people suggesting that it’s not so much a flashback as a dying’s man final thoughts.
Whatever the case may be, the film goes for a more traditionally linear structure afterwards, consisting mostly of Walker connecting the dots, going after his former friend, then the man’s boss, then the boss’s boss, …etc. His only goal is to get paid after all he’s been through, and he persistently knocks down all that’s in his way.
This is what I liked the most about the picture. Supported by Lee Marvin’s rock solid performance as the stoic and implacable Walker, I enjoyed watching the character find ways to get to his targets, confront them and then move on. It’s simplistic but deeply satisfying, in the same way as a good revenge story, such as ‘The Crow‘.
Walker is indeed a hunter, and we are on a hunt with him.
The style of ‘Point Blank’ is as cold and gritty as Walker himself. I can’t describe it, having no knowledge of photography, but it’s appropriate and it looks very good. It is said that Boorman stripped down some of the locations precisely for that reason; he felt that the picture needed to be bereft of embellishments. He was right.
There’s a lot of cold concrete in this picture, most notably in a stunning scene when Walker takes a shady car dealer with ties to the crime bosses for a ride in his own car and proceeds to smash the car back and forth between two large pillars, and in the payoff scene at the end, set in the expansive, empty drainage canal.
Walker lives in a literal concrete jungle.
The one weakness of the picture is in Walker’s relationship with his ex’s sister, Chris. Played by Angie Dickinson, Chris is a one-note character who is given more screen time than she’s worth likely because of the star’s involvement. But she is only truly useful for one scene, the one in which she seduces Reese to help Walker.
And that’s a dubious one: she had just finished telling Walker that Reese made her skin crawl, and somehow she was convinced to give her body to Walker’s cause. Why? Walker is hardly a charmer and he made no move to intimidate her either. Perhaps she was doing it to get revenge for her sister’s death, but this wasn’t explicitly said.
They do have one absolutely terrific scene together, however, when Walker holes up in the crime boss’s large, but deserted home, waiting for his return: After explaining to her that she is only along for her protection, suggesting he has no feelings for her, she rages against him – but he remains unshakeable, like a statue.
Like concrete. Just like the world we’re in.
It’s such a dynamic contrast that it makes for quite an unforgettable sight.
Lee Marvin made ‘Point Blank’, John Boorman delivered it. Forget everything and everyone else (except maybe John Vernon, in his first appearance), if not for these two, the picture likely would have fallen flat. It already wasn’t a box office winner, but at least it survives and its reputation has consistently grown since its release.
Lord knows I will watch it again and again: ‘Point Blank’ hits its target.
Post scriptum: ‘The Hunter’ was adapted for the big screen again in 1999 in Brian Helgeland’s ‘Payback’, starring Mel Gibson. But it’s certainly not the last of the films based on Richard Stark’s Parker, including a couple of French films and a few American ones as well. The most recent, ‘Parker’, was released in 2013.
Date of viewing: January 12, 2016