Sunday, October 29, 2023

The Pirates of Capri (1949)

The Pirates of Capri is an oddity in Edgar G.Ulmer’s career as a director but then when you think about it his entire career was full of oddities. Usually extremely interesting oddities. The Pirates of Capri is a swashbuckling adventure. It’s an Italian-American co-production shot in Italy.

It is 1798 and a warship is on its way to Naples carrying a shipment of arms, the fiancée of the Count of Amalfi and a troupe of acrobats. The acrobats are actually pirates and they seize the ship. The pirates are led by the notorious masked Captain Sirocco.

Captain Sirocco (Louis Hayward) is in fact the Count of Amalfi. In his Sirocco guise he is a handsome dashing very masculine pirate. In his Count of Amalfi guise he is a fop and a fool.

Of course this is hardly an original idea. It’s the same idea behind the Zorro books and movies. And Zorro was just a riff on Baroness Orczy’s the Scarlet Pimpernel. What matters with such dual rôles is finding an actor who can be equally convincing as both fop and hero. Is Louis Hayward up to the job? The answer is a resounding yes.

The pirates are not regular pirates. They’re revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the government of the Queen of Naples. There’s an interesting split in the ranks of the revolutionaries. Sirocco is a moderate. He wants to keep the queen on her throne. He just wants to get rid of her government, and mostly he wants to get rid of the vicious sadistic chief of police, Baron Holstein (Massimo Serato). He wants to avoid a bloodbath. The extreme revolutionaries want a bloodbath and they model themselves on the French revolutionaries so they’d be quite happy to lop off the queen’s head.

There’s a romantic complication. The Count of Amalfi’s intended bride is Countess Mercedes Villalta de Lopez (Mariella Lotti). She’s not keen on marrying the foolish count of Amalfi. Although initially horrified by Sirocco she has started to lose her heart to him. He’s the kind of action hero that any girl would fall for. Of course she has no idea that the Count of Amalfi and Sirocco are the same man.

There are plenty of fairly full-blooded action scenes. There’s a cruel villain who likes to torture young women. There’s the whole fighting for freedom thing (with a few twists). And there’s a suitably heroic hero. It’s a formula that should work, and it does.

On this occasion Ulmer has a reasonable budget to work with and it shows. The movie is visually reasonably impressive.

Louis Hayward is in splendid form. The other cast members are all quite competent.

The movie is fairly sympathetic to the revolutionaries, or at least to moderate revolutionaries such as Sirocco. Politically Sirocco falls halfway between being a reformist and a true revolutionary. You don’t really have to worry too much about the politics. The movie is perhaps a little naïve in that department anyway. This film can be enjoyed as a straightforward romantic swashbuckler.

The Pirates of Capri
is energetic fun. It’s Ulmer’s only swashbuckler although a few years later he did attempt an historical epic with Hannibal, an unjustly neglected movie.

Louis Hayward’s performance and Ulmer’s lively direction make The Pirates of Capri an enjoyable experience. Highly recommended.

This is a hard-to-find movie. I came across a French DVD from Artus Films which includes the English version (with removable subtitles) and it offers an acceptable transfer. There are no extras. That DVD is still in print and it’s your best chance of seeing this movie.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

The Big Trail (1930)

Raoul Walsh’s The Big Trail was an early attempt to make a truly epic western. Fox (this was before the merger that created 20th Century-Fox) not only spent a fortune on the film they also decided to shoot it in an all-new experimental format which they called Grandeur. This was the first widescreen process to be used in Hollywood.

The timing could not have been worse. By the time the movie was ready to go out the Depression was starting to bite. Added to this movie theatre owners were still reeling from the expense of converting to sound. There was no way anyone was going to spend the money required to convert theatres to allow The Big Trail to be screened in the Grandeur format.

The idea of an epic western was also fairly new and perhaps movie-goers were not ready for it. The Big Trail performed poorly at the box office.

The legend has it that this was the movie that should have made John Wayne a star but ended up setting back his bid for stardom by a decade. Personally I think that in 1930 John Wayne was just not ready for stardom. His performance here has none of the effortless quality that characterised his later great performances. He seems a bit nervous and and a bit tentative. When he did finally achieve star status he was ready and in full command of himself as an actor.

The Big Trail
is concerned with a huge wagon train full of settlers heading west. Breck Coleman (John Wayne) has been hired as a scout. The wagon boss is a disreputable character named Red Flack (played by Tyrone Power’s dad Tyrone Power Sr). Flack has with him his equally disreputable pal, Lopez.

Coleman signed on as scout because of Red Flack, and because of an old friend of Coleman’s. He very strongly suspects that Flack and Lopez murdered that old friend. Coleman intends to make them pay. He has no intention of turning them over to the proper authorities. That’s not how frontier justice works. He simply intends to kill both men.

Coleman has other things on my mind, principally one of the would-be settlers, Ruth Cameron (Marguerite Churchill). He got off on the wrong foot with her and she hates him but he’s still sure she’s the girl for him.

Gambler and con-man Bill Thorpe (Ian Keith) is a complication. He has also set his eyes on Ruth and has told her stories of his vast plantation in Louisiana. In fact Thorpe owns nothing but the clothes on his back but he’s a charming liar and Ruth believes him. He will cause lots of problems.

The trek to the West is an ordeal. There are constant setbacks, wagons are lost in river crossing, many settlers die crossing 500 miles of desert and there’s a full-scale battle with the Cheyenne. The wagon train pushes on regardless, while Coleman watches and waits for his opportunity to avenge his friend.

These were the very early days of sound pictures, when those pictures were very static and studio-bound. Raoul Walsh wasn’t having any of that nonsense. He intended to shoot on location with live sound, and he did.

This was an insanely ambitious movie. The scale of the movie is breathtaking. Every shot seems to include several hundred extras. There are huge numbers of wagons. This is not the sort of wagon train you see in most westerns. This is like a vast army of settlers on the march.

Walsh’s shot compositions are incredibly busy, there is so much happening in the foreground and the background, but they work. This is spectacle in the best sense of the word. And this was 1930. Walsh could not rely on special effects. If he wanted a scene with dozens of wagons being lowered down a sheer cliff-face the only way to do it was to lower dozens of wagons down a sheer cliff-face, which is what he did. Those kinds of scenes look real in a way that modern CGI never does look real. They look real because they were real.

There are some problems. The pacing is slow at times. The plot doesn’t have much complexity. Many of the supporting actors were forced on Walsh by the studio. He wasn’t happy with them, and he was right. Many of them are terrible. Tyrone Power Sr is just awful. The acting of most of the supporting cast members is stiff and some of the dialogue scenes are rather cringe-inducing. There is irritating comic relief, and there’s too much of it.

John Wayne is OK, but he’s not yet the real John Wayne, the John Wayne of his great movies. Marguerite Churchill on the other hand is very good (her performance is the best in the movie).

You have to make allowances for the fact that this was 1930. The conquest of the West was not something that happened in the distant past. There were plenty of people still living who took part in that conquest, and had first-hand memories of the Wild West. The director of the movie, Raoul Walsh, was personally acquainted with Wyatt Earp (and Earp and John Ford were good buddies). The West had an emotional resonance with Americans in 1930 that is difficult to imagine today. The triumphalist “planting civilisation in the wilderness” message is understandable when you take these things into account.

Somehow The Big Trail manages to overcome its flaws. The visual magnificence helps a great deal. What also helps is the total lack of modern fashionable irony. Whatever you think about the conquest of the West there is no denying that those pioneers had guts. This movie takes their courage seriously, and it takes their suffering seriously.

Watching this movie in its correct aspect ratio on Blu-Ray is an overwhelming experience. If you’re serious about classic movies it’s one that you have to see. And it’s one of the great Hollywood epics. With all its problems it’s still highly recommended.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Klute (1971)

Alan J. Pakula’s Klute is a tense crime thriller but there’s a bit more than that going on in this movie.

Jane Fonda picked up the Best Actress Oscar for this film, a rare instance of the Academy getting it right and rewarding a truly deserving performance. It’s by far her career-best performance.

A man has disappeared. He was a small-town guy who apparently took for New York. He hasn’t been heard of for six months. There are indications that he had a secret life. A letter is found which appears to be an obscene letter addressed to a prostitute. The F.B.I. investigation has made almost no progress at all. The only lead they found was a connection with a New York City call girl whom he was harassing.

The call girl is Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda). She was able to give the police very little information but she was quite badly frightened, and she’s still nervous. She is convinced someone is watching her. It’s not much of a lead but it’s all Klute has.

Klute is John Klute (Donald Sutherland) and he’s from the same small town as the missing man. The missing man was a close friend. Klute is not a detective and has no experience in missing persons work but he is hired to pursue the investigation when it becomes obvious the F.B.I. is fresh out of ideas. From the uniform he’s wearing in a very early scene he appears to be a sheriff’s deputy but we het the impression he’s quit in order to work this case as a private detective. Klute’s only real qualification for the job is that he cares.

Klute tries to pump Bree for information. She’s suspicious and hostile and at the same time she’s scared and maybe Klute is the only person who can protect her. More to the point, he’s the only person actually willing to do so.

Two years earlier Bree was beaten up by a john. Finding that man seems likely to be the key to the case. To find him they’ll have to find the prostitute who set Bree up with that john. Klute keeps hitting dead ends.

Bree is pretty confused. She wants to push Klute away and at the same time she’s afraid that if she does she’ll be alone. They start sleeping together and Bree gets a shock. For the first time in her life she actually enjoys having sex with a man.

Bree and Klute (unlikely partners in detection) make little progress and there are worrying indications that the situation could be much more dangerous than they’d thought. Klute not only has to crack the case, he has to keep Bree alive.

There’s no real mystery in this film. The viewer knows the solution to the puzzle right from the start, and might be surprised that Klute can’t see it.

The lack of mystery is no problem. This is a suspense film and so it’s important that the audience should know the answers before the protagonists do. And it’s an effective suspense film.

It’s also (not surprisingly for a film directed by Alan J. Pakuka) a 70s paranoia movie. And it’s very much a movie about voyeurism. Klute has has Bree under surveillance and he’s taped her phone calls. Someone else is taping her calls as well. Bree’s idea that she is being watched isn’t just paranoia. Klute has watched Bree with johns, and there’s someone else doing that as well.

Klute is also a weird kind of love story. Bree didn’t think she needed love but she finds that maybe she was wrong. Klute had no intention of getting involved with Bree, but he is involved. They’re so mis-matched that the chances of anything working out between them seem slim, but stranger things have happened.

Of course it’s also a movie about a prostitute. Mercifully it doesn’t get political or moralistic about this. Bree herself has mixed feelings about being a prostitute. She’s not sure that it’s a heathy longterm lifestyle and she talks about wanting to get out of the business but at the same time she admits that she enjoys being a call girl. This is a movie that trusts us to make up our own minds. There are certainly no moral judgments being made on Bree for being a hooker. Interestingly enough it doesn’t really make moral judgments on the men who employ the services of prostitutes - early on we see her with a john and he’s a regular guy and seems pretty nice.

It’s also a movie about control, and about sex as a means of control, but this is treated in a complex way as well. Bree uses sex as a means of control, but mostly she uses sex as a way of feeling in control of her own life.

Fonda is excellent in a difficult rôle. Bree is prickly and hostile and very hard to like. She is certainly not a whore with a heart of gold.

I’m not sure about the scenes between Bree and her therapist. I guess they serve the same purpose as a voiceover narration but in a less clumsy way. It’s a means of allowing us to hear Bree’s internal monologues so it works up to a point.

Donald Sutherland brings a subtlety and sensitivity to his performance that I’ve never seen from him in any other movie. Klute is an odd character. He’s very much a small-town guy with old-fashioned ideas about personal responsibility but at the same time he accepts Bree with all her faults and her prickly personality and he accepts her as a prostitute.

At a stretch Klute could almost be considered a neo-noir, in mood and look at least. Bree has some femme fatale characteristics. She certainly tries to play the femme fatale with Klute. She is however much too vulnerable to be a real femme fatale.

Mention must be made of the superb and disturbing music.

The Criterion DVD looks good. This is a movie that is intended to convey a rundown grimy gritty look to the city and to Bree’s apartment and the cinematography reflects this. There are quite a few extras. The featurette on the fashions seen in the movie is the most worthwhile.

Klute is regarded as being part of Pakula’s “paranoia trilogy” along with The Parallax View (which I’ve seen and liked) and All the President’s Men (which I’ve never seen). There are some similarities to the Parallax View but even more significant differences. Klute studiously avoids taking any overt political stance and I really don’t see any covert political subtext either. Klute is concerned with the psychological and the emotional rather than with the political. Klute is about people, not ideologies.

What makes Klute a great movie is its refusal to engage in cheap manipulation of the audience. There’s plenty of nuance here, something that is rare in Hollywood movies. One of the two truly great major studio films of the 70s (the other being Chinatown). Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Piccadilly (1929)

Piccadilly is a 1929 British silent melodrama directed by Ewald André Dupont and is perhaps best known as one of the most acclaimed movies made by its star, Anna May Wong. Arnold Bennett, a major literary figure in Britain at the time, wrote the story.

German-born Dupont started his film career as a screenwriter and later director in Germany. He relocated briefly to the United States and then again to Britain where he enjoyed considerable success in the late 1920s. He then tried Hollywood again, with very little success. Moulin Rouge (1928) and Piccadilly, both made in Britain, represented the peak of his career. Piccadilly was a very expensive production and it shows.

Valentine Wilmot (Jameson Thomas) runs the fashionable Piccadilly Club. His headliners are Vic (Cyril Ritchard) and Mabel (Gilda Gray). Mabel is Wilmot’s mistress but Vic has been increasingly overt in his attempts to steal Mabel away from him. The exasperated Wilmot gives Vic his marching orders.

Unfortunately Mabel on her own is not enough to draw in the customers. The Piccadilly Club is struggling and Wilmot is desperate. Then he remembers seeing pretty Chinese scullery maid Shosho (Anna May Wong) dancing in the scullery. He gets her to dance for him and he decides on a colossal gamble. He will attempt to turn Shosho into London’s newest dancing star. Mabel is amused. She is sure that the customers will laugh at Shosho. But they don’t. Her exotic and sensual Chinese dance is a sensation. To be honest she’s not the world’s greatest dancer but she is most definitely sexy. Shosho is soon the toast of London.

Mabel is somewhat jealous of Shoho’s success but the big problem is that Mabel thinks Shosho is trying to steal Wilmot from her. And that is indeed exactly what Shosho is trying to do. Mabel is very upset to say the least. Se reacts the way you would expect a woman to react when faced by a much younger romantic rival.

An added complication is a Chinese boy named Jim. The exact nature of his relationship with Shosho is obscure but he certainly acts as if Shosho belongs to him. He is clearly very jealous.

These romantic and sexual dramas end with a gunshot. We then get a courtroom scene in which various accounts of the events leading up to that gunshot are presented by different witnesses.

It’s pure romantic melodrama but there’s nothing wrong with that. The plot starts to drift a bit towards the end and the climactic courtroom scene is a dreary anticlimax. Courtroom scenes are incredibly difficult to pull off successfully and since by their very nature they’re intensely dialogue-driven they can fall very flat in silent movies.

The acting on the whole is extremely good without any of the exaggerated and histrionic gestures which people often associate with silent films.

Which brings us to Anna May Wong. I’ve seen a few of her talkies and I’ve been underwhelmed by her performances. She did certainly have several things going for her. The camera loved her. She had a definite screen presence. She could be amazingly glamorous and rather sexy. But I’ve always felt that there was something missing. Her performances are just a bit lifeless and her line delivery in talkies is a bit flat.

Seeing her in Piccadilly was a revelation. She really is excellent here. She seemed to be a much much better actress in silent films. She seems more confident than in her talkies and she’s much more lively and vivacious. And she really understood the art of silent film acting.

Shosho is intriguingly ambiguous. We’re not really sure how she actually feels about Wilmot. Does she love him or is she a bit of a schemer?

This movie does try to grapple with racial issues, sometimes clumsily, sometimes more subtly. The plot is however driven mostly by plain old-fashioned sexual jealousy.

This is a very stylish and visually arresting movie. The sets and costumes are lavish. Dupont’s framing of shots is consistently interesting without ever seeming gimmicky or intrusive.

Intriguingly the poster promises us topless dancing from Anna May Wong but we never get to see any. Perhaps some scenes were cut. Perhaps the poster artist just got over-excited. Perhaps British International Pictures figured that the poster would boost the box office.

The BFI’s DVD release looks lovely and best of all they’ve found a print that preserves the original tinting. Not everyone likes tinting but I love it and it’s one of the distinctive things that add to the charm of silent cinema. Apparently it’s accompanied by a newly commissioned score but I can’t comment of the score because I didn’t listen to it. I strongly disapprove of modern scores for silent movies and when I’m unlucky enough to encounter one I always turn the volume down to zero.

Piccadilly is a pretty good movie, it has style and it boasts a very fine performance by Anna May Wong. Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

The Secret 6 (1931)

When we think of Hollywood gangster movies of the early 1930s we don’t really think of MGM, but in fact MGM made several gangster pictures. The most notable was The Beast of the City (1932) which in my view is the greatest gangster picture of them all. A more unusual MGM gangster movie is The Secret 6, released in 1931. It was directed by George W. Hill.

Louis Scorpio (Wallace Beery) works in the stockyards and is affectionately known as Slaughterhouse. He gets involved in bootlegging in a small way in the town of Centro but when his boss and former pal Johnny Franks (Ralph Bellamy) double-crosses him he decides he’d like to be the boss. He guns down Johnny.

The real boss of this crime organisation is crooked lawyer Richard Newton (Lewis Stone). Being a lawyer as well as a gang boss makes Newton a formidable figure.

Slaughterhouse’s first move after taking over from Johnny Franks is to establish complete political control of the town. He engineers the election of bootlegger and gunman Nick “the Gouger” Mizoski (Paul Hurst) as mayor.

It seems like nothing can stop the rise of Newton and Slaughterhouse and soon they’re in control of crime in the city as well. They rely not just on gunplay but on large-scale bribery. They pay off city officials and also newspapermen, including Hank Rogers (Johnny Mack Brown) and Carl Luckner (Clark Gable).

Anne (Jean Harlow) is one of the gang’s women but she falls for Hank in a big way, which will have consequences.

The authorities may be powerless to stop these gangster but there are those who are determined to put an end to organised crime in the city. These men are the Secret 6, a group of important men who have formed a vigilante organisation. It’s a rather disturbing idea. This has to be one of the earliest Hollywood movies to deal with vigilante justice, but it would not be the last. The Secret 6 all wear masks which gives this movie a bit of a pulp fiction flavour, and also perhaps a slight Edgar Wallace flavour.

It’s interesting that both the notable MGM gangster movies, this one and The Beast of the City, are slightly unusual (although in different ways) with a flavour that differentiates them from Warner Brothers gangster films of the same era.

Slaughterhouse never manages to acquire even a veneer of sophistication. He’s uncouth and maybe not overly bright but he is ruthless and he has Newton’s brains to rely on. You do have to wonder if Slaughterhouse is really smart enough to be a gang boss. Wallace Beery is good as Slaughterhouse but maybe a bit too much of a cheery likeable working-class rough diamond to be really menacing.

Lewis Stone is smooth and sinister as Newton. Ralph Bellamy is excellent.

This was a very early rôle for Jean Harlow (she was nineteen at the time) but she shows definite flashes of the Harlow magic.

It’s also an early rôle for Clark Gable. He was not yet a star but he soon would be. Watching his performance in this movie his star quality is already evident.

This was the movie that convinced MGM that Harlow and Gable were star material and the rest is history.

There’s plenty of violence but it’s nowhere near as graphic as the blood-drenched The Beast of the City.

The ending is a bit contrived and a bit rushed. Frances Marion had a distinguished career as a screenwriter but gangster movies were not her forte and the script doesn’t quite hold together as well as one would like.

Director George W. Hill keeps things moving at a breakneck pace which helps to disguise the weaknesses of the script.

The Secret 6 is an intriguing and entertaining gangland saga and the presence of Harlow and Gable helps enormously. Recommended.

The Warner Archive DVD is of course barebones but provides a very good transfer.

Saturday, October 7, 2023

The Driver (1978)

Walter Hill’s The Driver, released in 1978, is a tough edgy neo-noir crime thriller with a distinctive flavour of its own.

The characters are all unnamed. The Driver (Ryan O’Neal) is a getaway driver and he’s just about the best in the business. He can pick and choose his job. He doesn’t work for amateurs or second-raters.

The Detective (Bruce Dern) is obsessed with nailing The Driver. The Driver has never been caught and that really bugs The Detective.

The movie opens with a superb car chase after a casino robbery. This time The Detective has finally got his man. It should lead to an easy conviction, but The Player (Isabelle Adjani) puts paid to that. She’s the key witness, she got a really good look at The Driver but when she’s asked to identify him she says she’s never seen this guy before. The Detective is outraged but there’s nothing he can do. The Driver has to be released.

The Player has of course been paid off by The Driver.

The Detective is now even more obsessed. He comes up with a plan that should land The Driver behind bars. The Detective’s plan is illegal, unethical and immoral but he’s the kind of cop who doesn’t worry about such things. The plan involves The Detective organising an armed bank robbery. When The Driver makes the drop-off of the money the cops will be waiting for him.

The problem is that, as you would expect with such a crazy reckless plan, everybody is planning to double-cross everybody else. The other guys involved in the robbery were forced into it by The Detective so they are really keen to pull a double-cross. And the reason The Driver has never been caught is that he is smart and ruthless.

It all gets messy. People get killed. It culminates in another spectacular car chase.

The ending is terrific and totally satisfying and that’s all I’m going to say about it.

There are three major action set-pieces involving cars and they’re all superbly done.

Ryan O’Neal is excellent as The Driver. When it comes to coolness O’Neal proves himself to be in the same league as icons of cool such as Steve McQueen and Alain Delon. O’Neal in this movie reminded me quite a bit of some of Delon’s 1960s and 70s anti-hero performances.

Bruce Dern is delightfully over-the-top as The Detective, his extravagant performance providing a perfect counterpoint to O’Neal’s tightly controlled performance. The Detective is so sleazy and creepy and unethical that even other cops don’t like him.

Isabelle Adjani is very good as The Player.

An interesting feature of the movie is that Hill resists the temptation to add a romance subplot. The Driver is interested in The Player only insofar as he can use her to thwart The Detective’s plans, and The Player’s only interest is in the money he pays her.

The Driver was a commercial flop in the U.S. and critics for the most part entirely failed to understand Hill’s intentions. On the other hand it did extremely well in some other markets. 20th Century Fox and EMI co-financed the movie, with Fox getting the US distribution rights and EMI the rest of the world. Fox didn’t do well out of the deal but EMI made lots of money.

It may have failed in the U.S. because American audiences were not prepared to accept Ryan O’Neal in such an unexpectedly dark rôle.

I suspect that the movie’s total lack of sex and nudity may have also hurt it at the American box office. Fox must have been frustrated that they couldn’t put out a trailer promising steamy love scenes between O’Neal and Adjani. While The Driver offers American-style action overall it’s a movie which to me has more of a European sensibility.

The Driver was not the first movie to have unnamed characters. Two-Lane Blacktop back in 1971 had done the same thing. There are other similarities between the two movies. They have a similar rather detached tone and minimalist approach and both deal with a contest between men which is motivated purely by an obsession with being a winner.

The Driver is one of the great action movies and one of the great neo-noirs of the 70s. Very highly recommended.

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).