Monday, October 2, 2023

Point Blank (1967)

John Boorman’s Point Blank was released in 1967, an interesting time for movies. The Hollywood Production Code was dead and Hollywood movies were changing in other ways as well. The French Nouvelle Vague had created something of a sensation in the early 60s and 1967 also saw the British New Wave at its peak. Whether these changes were a good thing or a bad thing can be debated but Point Blank was certainly one of the movies that reflected the changing approaches to movie-making.

Boorman was heavily influenced by both the Nouvelle Vague and the British New Wave as well as the rise of European art cinema.

The movie was based on the 1962 novel The Hunter by Donald E. Westlake (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark). Superficially the movie follows the novel’s basic plot outline but thematically it’s a million miles away.

The movie’s very self-consciously arty opening sequences set on the now deserted prison island of Alcatraz set the movie’s tone. Walker (Lee Marvin) is a thief who has been double-crossed by his accomplice Mal Reese. Walker is left for dead. Walker was also betrayed by his wife Lynne (Sharon Acker).

Walker isn’t dead and now he wants the $93,000 that he believes Reese owes him. Walker’s exact motivations are a little obscure. Maybe it’s revenge he wants or maybe it’s just the money. He thinks it’s the money.

Reese had used the money to buy his way back into the big-time organised crime outfit known as the Organisation. Walker will discover that if he wants his money he will have to get it from the Organisation. The advantage Walker has is that only a madman would try threatening the Organisation and as a result they don’t take him as seriously as they should.

Walker has two unlikely allies. There’s the character played by Keenan Wynn. He seems to be a cop of some kind. And there’s Chris, the sister of Walker’s wife Lynne. Lynne is now deceased but Walker didn’t kill her.

Walker is totally obsessed by his $93,000 and is prepared to wage a one-man war against a vast criminal syndicate.

Point Blank is usually regarded as a neo-noir. I’m very sceptical as to whether the term neo-noir has any real meaning. As is the case with so many movies labelled as neo-noirs I can see very little about this movie that could truly be considered noirish.

Point Blank reminds me much more of a western, and especially of the kinds of westerns that directors like Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher were making in the 50s. Revenge seems to me to be more of a western theme than a noir theme.

Lee Marvin’s is extraordinary. No other actor would have been capable of such a performance. The various Organisation figures are played by John Vernon, Lloyd Bochner and Carroll O’Connor. All very competent actors, and all very good in this movie.

I like Angie Dickinson as an actress and she’s excellent here as Chris but if this movie has a major weakness it’s the fact that Chris is a very interesting character with complex and mysterious motivations. We feel that she should have have had an intriguing story arc but her story simply goes nowhere. It’s as if her existence suddenly slipped the minds of the the director and the writers. This might perhaps have been a deliberate attempt to make an enigmatic movie even more enigmatic.

If you react positively to this movie you’ll be delighted by that enigmatic quality. If you react negatively to it you might think it’s merely incoherent and obscure for the sake of obscurity.

Boorman saw Walker as a mythic figure and that’s the way Marvin plays him.

This movie has a certain hallucinatory dream-like quality. Walker moves through the story like a figure in a dream. It’s a visually interesting movie with some fine use of colour, but usually it’s not the least bit noirish.

The original deal gave Lee Marvin a huge degree of creative control which he then ceded to Boorman so Boorman found himself in a surprising position as a more or less unknown director being allowed to make a major studio movie the way he chose to make it.

The Blu-Ray includes an audio commentary by Boorman and Steve Soderbergh. The only Soderbergh movie I’m familiar with is the catastrophically awful 2002 Solaris remake but he and Boorman do offer some worthwhile insights. The transfer is excellent.

I’m not sure that I’d say I loved it but Point Blank is definitely an interesting movie. Recommended.

I've reviewed the source novel, Donald E. Westlake's The Hunter (later republished as Point Blank). 

1 comment:

  1. Soderbergh's output is uneven, and some projects are clearly more personal than others. One I suspect you'll enjoy is The Limey, which in its way is quite similar to Point Blank.