This week’s Short Takes consist of one film. I have been working on this review, on and off, for a long time and could never get anything I was satisfied with. It was starting to feel like an albatross around my neck and I just wanted to toss it into the circular file. Instead, I put it away and only just the other day took another look at it again. I decided to chop and chop and chop dropping paragraphs all over the place and continued to chop until I ended up with what we see here.
Though dressed in suits and working out of corporate offices, John Boorman’s underworld characters in “Point Blank” are as treacherous, back stabbing, conniving group of low life’s as treacherous as gangsters of the Al Capone and bathtub gin era in the 1920’s. But as slick as they think they are, they meet there match in Walker (Lee Marvin) a relentless, life long criminal, doubled crossed out of his share of money from a robbery and left for dead. More than revenge… Walker wants his damn money.
Right from the very beginning the film has a dreamlike quality to it that gives the impression everything we have seen unfolding is exactly that, a final dream of a dying man. We first see a severely wounded Walker bleeding badly in a Alcatraz jail cell, the result of a betrayal of a friend and his own wife. Then, still wounded, we see Walker swimming across the San Francisco Bay away from Alcatraz toward San Francisco, an almost impossible task for a healthy human being, never mind someone badly injured. The dream like quality continues through to the film’s finale back on Alcatraz where a helicopter drop is made with Walker’s money, and one of the organization’s honchos, a man named Brewster (Carroll O’Connor) standing next to the package telling him to come and get it. Off to the side standing in the shadows Walker watches the drop. He does not come out; he stands back hidden and slowly fades into the darkness of the prison as the film ends.
The film is based on the novel, “The Hunter,” the first of twenty three hard boiled paperbacks about a career criminal who only goes by the name of Parker. It was written by Richard Stark, a pseudonym for Donald Westlake, one of the great crime fiction writers our time. In the film version, Parker’s name was changed to Walker. This was came about due to author Westlake’s refusal to let the filmmakers use the name Parker unless they agreed to make a series of films based on his Parker novels. They did not and subsequently the name was changed.
“Point Blank” was a revelation when it first came out in 1967 one of the most stylistic and earliest films, along with “Bonnie and Clyde” released the same year, to reflect the influences of the French New Wave. Boorman uses flashbacks, intercutting, off beat camera composition to create the paranoid universe Walker travels in attempting to collect the $93,000 owed him.
In 1999, the film was needlessly remade with Mel Gibson as Parker/Walker, only now he is called Porter. In comparing the two films, “Payback” is more straight forward, and certainly much more sadistically violent. It has the kind of over the top gratuitous movie violence that in real life no one could live through, yet Gibson’s Porter somehow does. Porter is also a much nastier version of Starks’ anti-hero, robbing, pick pocketing one person on the street to get false identification. He even steals some chump tip change off a sandwich shop counter for no reason other than he’s low-life. Porter is less anti-hero and more just a crude gorilla dressed up in false modern day movie cool. The film as whole has no heart or soul. It’s mindless pulp, a cartoon. Give me Lee Marvin over Mel Gibson and “Point Blank” over “Payback” any day.