Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Point Blank was filmed long after the official end of the noir era but exhibits several of its classic themes. This movie about a Hit Man with a serious case of Antonioni-itis cleaned up theatrically alongside Warners' other popular 1967 bloodbath, Bonnie & Clyde. It continued to play in frequent Los Angeles revivals and midnight shows for five or six years, where one could always detect a certain tobacco-like aroma ... the film's hazy L.A. dreamscape was perfect head-trip material.
Fun-loving Walker (Lee Marvin) is shot and left for dead during a robbery by his wife Lynne (Sharon Acker) and his best friend Mal Reese (John Vernon). A year later, he turns up alive and well, guided by a man named Yost (Keenan Wynn) on a quest into the criminal underworld. Walker is after the 93 thousand dollars he's owed, and Yost wants a bunch of syndicate middlemen eliminated. Walker locates Lynne but eventually uses her sister Chris (Angie Dickinson) to track down Mal, Big John Stegman (Michael Strong), Fred Carter (Lloyd Bochner) and finally the top man Brewster (Carrol O'Connor). Chris accuses Walker of being a monomaniacal zombie. The way he behaves, he indeed may be some kind of a ghost.
The key image in Point Blank is massive Lee Marvin striding down the old LAX corridors like a robot on overdrive, inter-cut jarringly with intimate shots of Sharon Acker putting on her makeup. This essential LA gangster film was made by a UK director whose only previous feature was a musical about the Dave Clark Five. Yet John Boorman has a natural understanding of hardboiled intrigue and powerhouse action scenes. The most dynamic moments are frequently repeated in flashbacks, often in slow motion. Marvin's Walker crashes through a doorway to strong-arm his ex-wife and shoot big black holes in her empty bed: it plays like a ballet yet is one of the more violent actions in any movie of the 1960s. Surely Sam Peckinpah was watching...
Point Blank is a simple revenge and payback story boiled down to its existential essence, and then pumped up with a visual treatment that resembles the work of Alain Resnais. It's interesting that just five or six years after Last Year at Marienbad, ordinary American audiences would have no trouble following the time-fractured exploits of a (possibly) ghostly hit man. The moment of Walker's shooting in Alcatraz is repeated at least five times and scene after scene unfolds in a weird limbo that co-exists with everyday Los Angeles reality (something L.A. residents have always understood). Jump cuts leap ahead in time exactly as would Kubrick's 2001 the next year.
Rationally speaking the story makes no sense, as Walker is twice shot point-blank in an Alcatraz cell. He then hobbles painfully into the currents of San Francisco Bay that routinely sweep even strong swimmers out to sea. But our Walker unaccountably turns up a year later with a full wardrobe of undefined origin, to make short work of one mob functionary after another.
After a classic crash-'em car ride with John Stegman, Walker works his way upward through the mob hierarchy, a faceless corporation of ruthless executives that carry no money but wield excessive power. There's great fun to be had watching Walker decimate their best killers. He suckers Lloyd Bochner's Carter, an unlikable bully, into stepping into his own death trap.
Point Blank flirts with nudity as regards Angie Dickinson, who helps Walker but is frustrated by his lack of feeling. The second best image in the show is the sight of Dickinson losing her composure and hitting, slapping and slugging Marvin as hard as she can. He stands like an immovable rock until she collapses in exhaustion. It's an abstract illustration of relationship problems that would be worthy of Jacques Tati, if he made violent movies.
Boorman frames a steady stream of bizarre visuals through Philip Lathrop's wide-angled Panavision lens. Perfumes and unguents mix in the bottom of a bathtub, another prophetic image from 2001. Images are diffracted through gratings and a psychedelic light show at a disco nightclub is used as a wild setting for a brutal fistfight. The only visual cliché is one mannered shot of characters posed 'just so' in a shattered mirror.
Marvin is a Golem with a magnum pistol, gray-haired and wearing a constant mask-like expression. John Vernon stands out as the treacherous mobster, begging Walker to help him in a roomful of loud men. Carroll O'Connor and Keenan Wynn are also excellent as the top dogs that Walker can't seem to push around.
Does Walker actually kill anybody? It looks to this reviewer as if he merely precipitates accidents with his presence, and watches as other people do the actual killing. With that in mind Point Blank could be classified as a genuine gangster-horror hybrid about a vindictive ghost working out a bizarre curse from beyond the grave. Luis Buñuel's black comedy The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (Ensayo de un Crimen) comes to mind: in it a would-be serial killer is frustrated when his targeted victims keep dying accidentally before he can satisfy his sadistic desires.
Action movie fans have always been a bit disappointed by the oblique ending, in which a helicopter lands in the narrow confines of Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge. Instead of a violent payoff, Boorman gives us deep-dish symbolism. When he accomplishes his goal, Walker appears to cease to exist, to dematerialize. Perhaps he's finally become conscious of the contradiction of his own existence, like a Luis Borges character. The miracle is that Boorman's artsy approach works at all -- Point Blank is a conceptual original. 1
Warners' DVD of Point Blank has a sharp enhanced transfer with almost no damage, carrying the careful color design intact from the big screen. The only odd shot is the special effects scene of a character falling from a skyscraper, which looks even more like a bad cutout than it did in the theaters. The weird soundtrack is nicely turned out with the dialogue always easy to understand.
Two contemporary featurettes are present, both called The Rock which cover the filming on Alcatraz. On short has an elderly convict returning to his one-time home. The film's arresting trailer is present as well. But best of all is a commentary with director Boorman accompanied by Steven Soderbergh, who did a similar crime movie a few years back called The Limey. The younger director brings out the very best in Boorman as they talk about the picture's ambiguous elements; it's almost as good as Soderbergh's talk with Mike Nichols on Catch-22.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Point Blank rates:
Supplements: two featurettes; commentary with director John Boorman and Steven Soderbergh.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 19, 2005
1. Ever visited San Francisco's Fort Point? The courtyard is narrow and small. It was an amazing stunt for that helicopter to land -- it can't have had twenty feet of clearance on both sides of its rotors. The Fort has been closed to the public, unfortunately, since 9/11 -- a convenient opportunity to save some cash. Visitors can't even walk around to the sea-swept Bridge side of the fort, to stand where Jimmy Stewart jumped in the water to save Kim Novak.
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson