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Generally acknowledged by most film critics as director John Boorman's most influential film, Point Blank (1967) is a modern day film noir thriller that employs the techniques and thematic concerns of French New Wave filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais to tell a story about basic human greed and retribution. As Walker, the central character in the film, Lee Marvin moves with the precision of a machine, cold, calculating, relentless; he could be the predecessor to Arnold Schwarzenegger's annihilating cyborg in The Terminator (1984).
What Walker wants is revenge. After being double-crossed by his partner, Mal Reese (John Vernon), in a robbery and left to die from bullet wounds, Walker manages to survive and eventually track down his betrayer, who not only absconded with a shipment of mob money but also took his wife as a mistress. Mal turns out to be just one player in a complex scheme masterminded by the "Organization," an inaccessible group of high-profile executives. Walker's attempts to locate his money and avenge his honor are repeatedly frustrated by this new breed of criminal - corporate lawyers and businessmen who traffic in stocks, bonds and credit cards, not hard cash.
Point Blank is a brutal, stylish and innovative film, certainly unlike any other American movie released in 1967. It's also significant as the first collaboration between the director and actor Lee Marvin. After this feature, they would work together on Hell in the Pacific (1968), an intriguing tale of survival set on a deserted island during World War II and co-starring Toshiro Mifune.
In Lee: A Memoir by Pamela Marvin, the actor recalled the genesis of Point Blank: "I was filming The Dirty Dozen in London when I met John Boorman for the first time. A young producer, Judd Bernard, wanted me for one of his projects, the adaptation of a thriller that was to become Point Blank. Boorman came to my home several times and we immediately got on the same wavelength. We'd talk about emotions, about mythologies....It was one of those chance meetings that evolve into a friendship. Later I suggested we make a movie together....We swapped ideas on Zen Buddhism, on war, on the movie's visuals. Boorman's very good at speaking with actors; for some of them he can even be too intellectual. Working with him isn't easy; but for me that's a compliment, because he forces you to think. When you begin a day's shooting under his direction you know that by the evening you're going to be worn out by the demands he makes on you."
While Boorman's command of the medium is indeed dazzling - jump cuts, slow-motion, the repetition of scenes for emphasis, amplified sound effects, dreamlike imagery and a fragmented sense of time - it is hard to imagine Point Blank without the participation of Marvin. His grimly determined gangster drives the narrative and makes an indelible impression on viewers; it's one of his most iconic performances, though he'd played a similar character - a hit man - in the 1964 version of The Killers. Equally impressive is Angie Dickinson as Walker's sister-in-law, whom he uses as bait to trap his former partner. The wordless sequence where she turns on every appliance in the house before physically attacking Walker, pounding on his chest until she's exhausted, is still remarkable for its contrast between her emotionalism and his dehumanized presence.
Mel Gibson would later remake Point Blank as Payback in 1999, and while it captured the escalating violence of its original source material - The Hunter written by Richard Stark (a pseudonym for author Donald E. Westlake) - it lacked the cinematic virtuosity and metaphorical significance of Boorman's version.
Point Blank never really caught on with American audiences, but it was enthusiastically received in Europe and has since become a cult film favorite of many. In one of the more articulate assessments of Point Blank, Chris Petit of the TimeOut Film Guide wrote that "people have noted the influence of Resnais behind the film's time lapses and possible dream setting, but Godard's Alphaville offers a more rewarding comparison. Both films use the gangster/thriller framework to explore the increasing depersonalisation of living in a mechanized urban world. Just as Constantine's Lemmy Caution was a figure from the past stranded in a futuristic setting, so Marvin's bullet-headed gangster is an anachronism from the '50s transported to San Francisco and LA of the '60s, a world of concrete slabs and menacing vertical lines."
Point Blank also features a cinematic first in screen violence - Marvin delivers a karate chop to a man's groin in one fatal encounter.
Producer: Judd Bernard
Director: John Boorman
Screenplay: Alexander Jacobs, David Newhouse, Rafe Newhouse, Donald E. Westlake
Production Design: Keogh Gleason, Henry W. Grace
Cinematography: Philip H. Lathrop
Costume Design: Margo Weintz
Film Editing: Henry Berman
Original Music: Johnny Mandel
Cast: Lee Marvin (Walker), Angie Dickinson (Chris), Keenan Wynn (Fairfax, "Yost"), Carroll O'Connor (Brewster), Lloyd Bochner (Frederick Carter), John Vernon (Mal Reese), Sharon Acker (Lynne), Michael Strong (Stegman), James Sikking (Hired Gun).
by Jeff Stafford