Point Blank (1967)


(director: John Boorman; screenwriters: from the book The Hunter by Richard Stark/Alexander Jacobs/David Newhouse/Rafe Newhouse; cinematographer: Philip H. Lathrop; editor: Henry Berman; music: Johnny Mandel; cast: Lee Marvin (Walker), Angie Dickinson (Chris), Keenan Wynn (Yost), Carroll O’Connor (Brewster), John Vernon (Mal Reese), Sharon Acker (Lynne), Michael Strong (Big John Stegman), Lloyd Bochner (Frederick Carter), James Sikking (Hired gun); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Judd Bernard/Robert Chartoff; MGM; 1967)
“Influenced by the classy Euro-art style of French director Alain Resnais.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Boorman’s (“Deliverance”) neo-noir film was influenced by the classy Euro-art style of French director Alain Resnais. It resulted in blurring the lines of time and space, presenting a dreamlike scenario (where the onscreen presentation is so ambiguous that it could be viewed as a real dream), and by shunning the conventional linear way such genre films were shot. Boorman brought the crime drama into the modern corporate world of icy glass structures and thereby gave the film a different look from the traditional seedy world of film noir. Godard’s Alphaville reflects the same amoral violence as in Point Blank, and also highlights the battle of the loner versus the organization.

Point Blank is an extremely violent crime thriller that explores the dehumanized living conditions in a big city and the multiconglomerate operation run by accountants in gray suits interested only in the bottom line. The film’s hard-nosed protagonist, a dinosaur from the film noir films of the 40’s and 50’s, Lee Marvin as Walker, comes back from the dead to discover his world has changed–the crime Organization is the same as the legitimate corporation. It’s run by respectable businessmen who don’t carry on them money but credit cards and distance themselves from the underhanded work that keeps them on the top. Walker finds they can’t even pay him under the table because all the money is accounted for in the legitimate business.

It’s based on the book The Hunter by Richard Stark; the writers are Alexander Jacobs, David Newhouse, and Rafe Newhouse. Cimematographer Philip H. Lathrop shoots on location at the dinghy site of an abandoned Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, and in the high-class business districts of Los Angeles, getting the raw feel of both places.

Walker is double-crossed by his best friend Mal Reese (John Vernon, his film debut) in a stickup of the Organization at their drop-off spot in Alcatraz Island. Reese takes all the money amounting to $150,000, including Walker’s share of $93,000. He also steals Walker’s double-crossing wife Lynne (Sharon Acker), also present during the heist, and shoots Walker at point-blank range in the cell. Walker miraculously lives without anyone knowing about it, and serves a year in prison. Upon either his release or escape (which was never made clear), he is bent on revenge as he goes looking for the double-crossers and to get his share of the loot. Through the mysterious Yost (Keenan Wynn) he meets while on a boat touring Alcatraz Island, Walker finds out that Reese paid the Organization back and is now back in their good graces working for them. Yost is willing to support Walker and supply him with info in getting Reese, but in return he wants him to bring down the Organization.

Tracking Lynne down in her Los Angeles pad, Walker shoots her bed full of holes but can’t finish her off. She tells him Reese dumped her, and later feeling contrite over what she did to her hubby she commits suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. By forcing Lynne’s drug delivery boy to tell him who supplied the drugs, Walker learns it’s a used car dealer working for the syndicate named Big John Stegman (Michael Strong). The imposing Walker takes Stegman for a ride and beats it out of him that the syndicate Reese works for is run by megacorporate businessmen Fred Carter (Lloyd Bochner), Brewster (Carroll O’Connor), and the moneyman Fairfax. Stegman also mentioned that Lynne’s sister Chris (Angie Dickinson) is now seeing Reese and she runs a jazz club in San Francisco for the syndicate. At the jazz club, Walker has been setup but fights his way out of the club and winds up in Chris’s pad. Walker learns Chris detests Reese, and he easily talks her into contacting Reese and being a Trojan Horse to get him into Reese’s Los Angeles luxury hotel where he is well-guarded by his security force. Walker slips in through some trickery and dramatically disposes of a sniveling Reese after he’s in the middle of humping Chris. But, before the bare-assed Reese falls off of his penthouse suite balcony, he tells Walker he will have to get the money from the Organization boss Carter, he can’t pay him.

As Walker visits the tightly guarded corporate leaders in the hi-rise corporate buildings, he’s perplexed that none of them has the money to pay him. But that doesn’t stop Walker in his relentless inhuman pursuit to get his dough and show these businessmen gangsters that he can’t be shoved aside like yesterday’s news without there being serious consequences.

The film is told incoherently in a dazzling manner as it appears to be taking place in Walker’s head. The fuzzy ending has Walker working his way up the corporate ladder and killing everyone who got in his way. But, at last, when the money is visualized waiting for him in the same exact spot where he pulled the Alcatraz heist, he fails to come out of his cell and collect it. This would indicate that everything was a dream and that before he could dream about picking up the loot he died from Reese’s gunshot.

Boorman’s film is about the changes in the business world and the film world, where the corporate world rules both and brings with it a cold inhuman attitude that values power over feelings.

It was remade in 1999 as Payback starring Mel Gibson, but could not duplicate the honest feel of the original or adequately reflect the original’s gut-wrenching struggle between the David and the Goliath.