Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Point Blank was made 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 in 1967 alongside Warners' other popular 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 LA 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 eventually 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 he has a natural understanding
of hardboiled intrigue and powerhouse action scenes. The most dynamic moments are frequently
repeated in flashbacks, sometimes even 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
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 something 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 LA 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 a classic crash-'em car ride with John Stegman, Walker works his way upward through
the mob hierarchy, a faceless corporation of ruthless executives who 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
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
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.
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
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 cut-out than it did in the theaters. The weird soundtrack is nicely turned
out with the dialogue always easy to understand.
There are two contemporary featurettes, 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
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson