Point Blank (1967)

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John Boorman’s 1967 neo-noir Point Blank is based on the novel, The Hunter, the first of twenty-three hard-boiled paperbacks about a career criminal who goes by the singular name of Parker. The series was written by Richard Stark, one of many pseudonyms used by Donald E. Westlake, one of the all-time great crime fiction writers our time. Westlake’s career spread across novels, screenplay, and television. Several of his many books have made it to the big screen including The Split (1968) The Hot Rock (1972), Cops and Robbers (1973), Bank Shot (1974) and Two Much among others. Westlake’s screenplay credits include The Grifters (2000), adapted from famed pulp fiction writer Jim Thompson novel, and The Stepfather. Two of my own personal favorite works of Westlake books are both standalone novels: The Hook and The Ax.

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In the film version of Point Blank, Parker’s name is changed to Walker. This 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 refused, and subsequently, the name changed.

Lee Marvin had a long cinematic career. In his early years, in supporting roles, Marvin played characters who lived on the wrong side of the law: The Wild One, Shackout on 101, Bad Day at Black Rock, Violent Saturday, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and Gun Fury to name a few. After the success of Cat Ballou, The Professionals, and The Dirty Dozen, Lee Marvin’s star status grew; he now had the right to final script approval which he used on Point Blank.  Marvin’s first move was to immediately hand the power over to director John Boorman whose only big-screen directorial credit at that point was 1965’s Having a Wild Weekend, starring the English pop group, The Dave Clark Five. Boorman and Marvin together turned Point Blank into an arty New Wave gangster film with the quirky idea of apparently killing off our anti-hero at the beginning of the film.

Though dressed in suits and working out of corporate offices, John Boorman’s underworld characters in Point Blank are as treacherous, backstabbing, and a conniving group of low life’s as gangsters of the Al Capone and bathtub gin era in the 1920’s. But as slick, as they think they are, they meet their match in Walker (Lee Marvin) a relentless, lifelong criminal, doubled crossed out of his share of money from a robbery and left for dead. More than revenge, Walker wants his damn money.

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Walker’s left for dead in an Alcatraz jail cell, the result of a betrayal by Mal Reese (John Vernon) his friend and Walker’s own wife, Lynne (Sharon Acker) who is Reese’s lover. Our anti-hero survives the shooting and recovers with the help of a mysterious man named Yost (Keenan Wynn) who encourages Walker to eliminate as many of the organization’s men as possible. Walker heads to Los Angeles in pursuit of Reese and his money. Reese, however, spent the money paying back the debt he owed to the mob, AKA The Organization. Along with others, Reese goes down, he literally goes down after Walker forces him off a balcony. Walker gets help from Chris (Angie Dickinson), his sister-in-law, who hated Reese. Walker’s hunt for his money comes full circle back to Alcatraz, but with a surprising twist.

Point Blank was a revelation when it first came out in 1967 as 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, inter-cutting, unique camera composition to create the paranoid universe Walker travels in attempting to collect the $93,000 owed him. Despite Point Blank having it visual cores in the world of art house cinema, it was and remains a perfect neo-noir thriller.

In 1999, the film was needlessly remade with Mel Gibson as Parker/Walker, only now he’s called Porter. In comparing the two films, Payback plays out more straightforward, and certainly more sadistically violent, though Point Blank was considered violent for its time. Payback is filled with the over top gratuitous movie violence that in real life no one could live through, yet Gibson’s Porter somehow does. Gibson’s Porter is less anti-hero than a crude gorilla dressed up in false modern day movie cool. The film as a whole has no heart or soul. It’s mindless pulp, a cartoon. Stick with Point Blank.

If you like Lee Marvin you may want to read author Dwayne Epstein’s biography on the actor, Lee Marvin: Point Blank. I interviewed the author right after the book was published, You can read the interview here.

This post is part of the CMBA OUTLAWS Blogathon. Check out the many other great entries in this series. Click here.

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13 comments on “Point Blank (1967)

  1. Following your advice, I will remain happy to stick with Point Blank over Payback. Lee Marvin always made the perfect outsider.

    A note of perverse pride: You can’t trust Canadians! (Sharon Acker from Toronto, and John Vernon born in Saskatchewan)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this post, John. It’s funny–I’ve been talking about Point Blank with some bloggers lately. Now I know I’m in the minority here, but I don’t like this film. As a cinephile, I should like it. As a lover of the French New Wave, I should like it. As an admirer of John Boorman and a reader of arty pulp fiction, I should like it. But I don’t. Perhaps it’s because it’s in color…I don’t know. Perhaps I need a bit more charm and humor in an anti-hero to root for him/her…I don’t know. What I do know is I hated the Alcatraz connection. And I’ve never been an Angie Dickinson fan.
    If all of that’s not bad enough…I like Payback. In fact, I like the first half of the film a lot. I’m not defending any of this…I write it in shame, but it is what it is. Ha!

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Greco says:

      I like you honestly! In my own case, I am no fan of Gone With the Wind and so many cinephiles love It, and frankly I don’t give a damn that they do. I still hate the overblown spectacle. Part of my dislike for Payback is I am not a fan Mel Gibson. Not sure why, but he rubs me the wrong way.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. John Greco says:

    Yes!

    Like

  4. The Lady Eve says:

    I just began reading the Stark books a few months ago, beginning with The Hunter, of course. Then I picked up a Point Blank DVD so I could compare book/movie (I’d seen the movie years before but wanted to take a really close look). I thought I’d blog about it, but now I don’t have to! Great take on a late ’60s classic, John. It’s nice to have a classic film blogger pal who enjoys the New Hollywood classics as much as the Old!

    Haven’t seen Payback (haven’t cared much for Mel Gibson’s films since the mid-80s) and am not a fan of GWtW.

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  5. IMO, Point Blank is a watershed moment in American films, but the film and Lee Marvin’s performance don’t get the respect they deserve. Thanks for making it right with this fabulous review. Also, I can tolerate most remakes, but Payback is one that really, really drives me nuts.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. rdfinch2015 says:

    Along with “Hope and Glory” my favorite Boorman film. Critic David Thomson believes the movie uses the “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” gimmick of the entire movie taking place in the few moments before Lee Marvin dies, an instant revenge fantasy. I don’t see it that way myself, but I can see how a case could be made for this interpretation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Greco says:

      Yeah, I have heard the same idea. Ithnik it works either way. Hope and Glory is an amazing.film. I know it’s one of our friend Mr. Juliano’s all time favorites.

      Like

  7. Rick says:

    POINT BLANK is terrific film, featuring what I’d consider Marvin’s best performance. Whenever it’s on, I feel myself caught up in Walkers relentless pursuit of his money (which is basically the film’s MacGuffin). I admit, though, that I’m a fan of PAYBACK, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. John Charet says:

    Great post 🙂 I especially love how you compare talk about how this film (along with Bonnie and Clyde) to borrow cinematic styles associated with French New Wave cinema. This ranks as not only one of Lee Marvin’s many best films, but also that of it’s director John Boorman himself. Also, remember that music nightclub fight sequence? Fantastic stuff 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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