Point Blank (1967)
May 25, 2016 6:15 PM - Subscribe

After being double-crossed and left for dead, a mysterious man named Walker single-mindedly tries to retrieve the rather inconsequential sum of money that was stolen from him.

NYTimes: John Boorman, a newcomer who directed this relentless, diabolic account of an escaped convict's hunting down and killing of the rascals who get in his way, has done an amazing job of getting the look and smell of Los Angeles into the texture of his picture and weaving it together in a tangled, cryptic way that is likely to engross the viewer without enlightening or edifying him.


But, holy smokes, what a candid and calculatedly sadistic film it is! What a sheer exercise in creeping menace and crashing violence for their surface shock effects! It evolves on a shadowy social level and develops no considerate moral sense. Mr. Marvin is out to get his money by hitting, cutting with bottles, dumping men off roofs, and shooting them—and he does. He is a thorough antihero, a killer who must kill or be killed.

Inside Out (MoMA Blog): Boorman’s film is violent, but it came out a few weeks after Arthur Penn’s highly publicized Bonnie and Clyde. Like Penn’s film, Boorman’s is part of a non-orchestrated, spontaneous movement in Hollywood filmmaking in line with the decade’s questioning of American values. The mob guys are essentially successful businessmen, oligarchs of capitalism. Marvin is a morally tainted hero (with perhaps just a bit of Lyndon Johnson, but anticipating the likes of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew the following year). Point Blank’s reckless—but hardly wreckless—mad car-chase sequence helped pave the way for Bullitt and The French Connection. The film also helps to establish the trend toward kinkiness in modern-day American cinema.

Much of the violence seems inexplicable, and the film is structured elliptically, in keeping with the geometric architectural visuals photographed by Philip H. Lathrop, Blake Edwards’s favorite cinematographer. Both the violence and kinkiness seem to flow naturally from the persona of Lee Marvin, who would work again for Boorman on Hell in the Pacific, opposite another actor capable of personifying a kind of charming bestiality, Toshiro Mifune. (Boorman made a documentary on Marvin, who had given him his big break, in 1998.) Angie Dickinson rivaled Julie Christie for queen of 1960s sensuality, and John Vernon’s psychopath paved the way for a slew of similar roles for Siegel, Eastwood, and others.

Senses of Cinema: Point Blank is loaded with flashes and fragments of the past that define characters physically as much as psychologically, emphasising in particular the rote and repeated nature of the central character’s (Lee Marvin’s Walker) actions, as well as the “haunted” qualities of his presence and appearances. This character is often left to soak up and respond to environments and surroundings after the core actions have taken place, their physical form and shape bent by the deployment of various optical devices as well as unexplained shifts in mise en scène. In one of the film’s most mysterious sequences, Walker is suddenly alone in his wife’s house, the interior magically vacated of almost all its furnishings, as well as her recently deceased body (she has taken an overdose). As in many other moments in the film there is a sense of déjà vu, one of many scenes and shots that isolate Marvin within the frame, as his character is jettisoned back into the cell he was condemned to in the film’s opening (shot, seemingly fatally, while dividing up the spoils of a heist in the abandoned prison of Alcatraz – the gang’s presence there isn’t really explained either). The film – particularly in its opening 30 minutes – is full of such startling transitions, helping produce a portrait of a society that is both corporeal and spectral, connected to and alienated by modernity, seen through and quite distanced from Marvin’s character.

Slant: If Walker isn't interested in the retribution most men would crave after such a betrayal, Boorman is similarly uninterested in merely replicating the style and tone of prototypical film noir. (After the 1965 British comedy Catch Us if You Can, Point Blank was the director's American film debut.) Influenced by the French New Wave's radical formal innovations, the European ennui of Michelangelo Antonioni's films, and the genre revisionism of Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns, Boorman set out to make a thriller that looked and felt like nothing else before it, using widescreen Panavision cinematography, explosive colors, and a multi-layered soundtrack to re-envision the noir picture as highbrow Euro-art film. Whereas noirs generally boast a shadowy, expressionistic interplay between light and dark, Boorman casts most of his film in brilliant daylight and summery colors. Where noir creates a visual and thematic atmosphere of constriction and imprisonment, Boorman shoots everything in expansive widescreen that posits characters in oppressively open spaces and, when more than one person is on screen, at opposite ends of the frame. And instead of noir's typically convoluted narratives involving plenty of unnecessary exposition, Boorman's film is a model of silent visual storytelling that broke new ground in non-linear cinematic narrative construction.

What makes Point Blank so extraordinary, however, is not its departures from genre conventions, but Boorman's virtuoso use of such unconventional avant-garde stylistics to saturate the proceedings with a classical noir mood of existential torpor and romanticized fatalism. The action is set against (and within) a sunny corporate L.A. landscape characterized by its sterile, overwhelming enormity—situated in the corners of Boorman's off-kilter compositions, a colossal architectural or natural edifice weighing down upon his back (if not literally crowding him off the screen), Walker is denied sanctuary. Through odd camera angles and stylized compositions that position our hero as powerless and adrift amid this malevolent, foreign metropolis, Boorman creates a tone of uneasy dislocation. Los Angeles seems more menacingly inhospitable in sunshine than at night, and this irony plays into the film's dichotomy between the old and new world. Just as classic noir's sinister darkness is replaced in Point Blank by creepy brightness, so has Walker's old-school criminal been replaced by the corporate villains who work their nefarious schemes on behalf of faceless financial entities (Reese has stolen Walker's money as a means of buying his way back into the ominous “The Organization”). For these conglomerates, “Profit is the only principle,” and unlike yesteryear's two-bit crook (of which Walker is one), they do business in checks, not cash.

Roger Ebert: There are a few questions you may stumble across in your examination of this plot, and one of them Is phrased nicely by the big shot. "Good Lord, man," he tells Marvin, "do you mean to say you'd bring down this immense organization for a paltry $93,000?" The question is more or less rhetorical, since Marvin has already knocked off most of the board of directors, several hired gunmen and a secretary or two. You'd think the Organization would let him have his $93,000, and good riddance.

Offscreen: On one level, Point Blank can be viewed as a straightforward story about betrayal, vengeance and greed. On closer viewing, however, Point Blank possesses a surreal disorientating dreamlike quality. On another level, Point Blank can be interpreted as the dream of a dying man. A dying dream experienced by Walker, from the moment he is shot by Reece at the beginning of Point Blank and left to die in a dank prison cell at Alcatraz, until the final frame of the film. Point Blank utilizes a dizzying of innovative visual, editing and sound techniques, as well as a fractured and disorientating narrative structure, all of which reinforce the notion of a blurring between dream and reality.

Is Point Blank a ghost story?

John Boorman Gets Revenge: Point Blank, A Hollywood Tale

posted by MoonOrb (9 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Ah, I do love both the film and the book that was the source material. They are both great in different ways and become entirely separate things (I feel the same way about Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?).

The director's commentary on the DVD is well worth your time.

Also, next time you watch it be sure to track the changing color palette of Park^H^H^H^HWalker's suits. (Ignoring, of course, the question of where he is carrying all the extra clothing.)
posted by kreinsch at 8:01 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I almost suggested this for Heist Club.
posted by rhizome at 9:47 PM on May 25, 2016

This is a great movie to watch as a Double Lee Marvin Feature with 1972's Prime Cut.
posted by valkane at 3:32 AM on May 26, 2016

That's an awesome poster, I want my first tattoos to be each of those pictures! It makes me want to start a "Fat Silencer Movies from the 70s" FanFare.
posted by rhizome at 3:47 AM on May 26, 2016

There's so much that I love this movie. The colors. The shot framing is creative has hell. The sound design is so fake but so awesome. Angie Dickinson is, well, Angie Dickinson. Carol O'Connor(!) is the villain. And that's just be best hallway in any movie.
posted by octothorpe at 4:57 AM on May 26, 2016

Interesting, there have been eight movies made from the "Parker" books by Donald Westlake:
The following actors have portrayed the character: Lee Marvin (as Walker in Point Blank), Michel Constantin (as Georges in Mise a Sac), Anna Karina (as Paula Nelson in Made in U.S.A.), Jim Brown (as McClain in The Split), Robert Duvall (as Earl Macklin in The Outfit), Peter Coyote (as Stone in Slayground), Mel Gibson (as Porter in Payback), and Jason Statham (as Parker in Parker).
posted by octothorpe at 5:33 AM on May 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

We have a monthly cult movie double-bill here in Amsterdam, and a couple of years back Point Blank was paired with Mad Max under the title Vendetta Night (Dutch language link).
posted by daveje at 7:42 AM on May 26, 2016

One of the greatest punch 'em in the dick moments in the history of film.
posted by maxsparber at 8:18 AM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

You'd think the Organization would let him have his $93,000, and good riddance.

In the books, Parker makes this point himself several times at least two of the novels. Westlake was of the opinion that the mob was stupid, set in its ways, and unable to envision any kind of challenge from an individual. To him, not just in The Hunter, but in dozens of other books (not all about Parker), the mob was the embodiment of everything wrong with corporate America. As it happens, the mob is still chasing Parker in a sequel, The Outfit (filmed with Robert Duval in the Parker role), but they don't finally give up until he has cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.
posted by ubiquity at 6:11 AM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

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