RETROSPECT: POINT BLANK (1967)
February 6th 2009 04:47
“I want my money back!” growls Walker (Lee Marvin) about twenty times during director John Boorman’s elliptical and hallucinatory Point Blank. But rather than being a lazy piece of writing from a washed-up screen scribe, this repetition is part of a rich visual poem and Walker’s story turns out to be more complicated than that of a man simply after $93000, that is of course if he exists at all.
Made in 1967, Point Blank was Boorman’s first American feature (he later went on to direct the seminal Deliverance) and it was Marvin’s second major film of the year after the immensely popular The Dirty Dozen. While audiences were left a little confused by what seemed to be starkly different role choices from the then 42 year-old, time would quickly bring into focus The Dirty Dozen’s more grimy and subversive aspects. Stacked next to each other, the two films create a quiet logic, both being heavily revisionist in their approach to their respective genres.
Point Blank tells the story of Walker, a broken man hell bent on revenge. At the start of the film Walker is on Alcatraz divvying up the takings from a recent heist when he is double-crossed and shot by his partner, Mal Reese (John Vernon). Reese turns out to be the lover of Walker’s wife, Lynne (Sharon Acker), and together they escape the island, leaving Walker to a cold and lonely death.
But Walker doesn’t die. A couple of years later and he’s seemingly resurrected, a stone-faced machine with the black tar of revenge racing through his veins. With occasional help from the enigmatic Yost (Keenan Wynn) and Lynne’s sister, Chris (Angie Dickinson), Walker goes in ruthless pursuit of his $93 000 and those that betrayed him, whether they be Reese, Lynne or an unlucky member of management in ‘The Organisation.’
So rolls one of the most potent thrillers ever cast to film. Boorman and Marvin took total control of the screenplay early in the process, completely rewriting it for their particular purposes and eventually weaving together a film that abounds with beautiful wide screen compositions, clever colour design, intricate metaphor and ruminative themes.
Boorman’s work in Point Blank is something out of this world. The then 34-year-old teamed with cinematographer Philip H. Lathrop to create some stunning photography. Boorman investigated thoroughly the new lens technology being made available by Panavision before eventually settling on the company’s very first 40mm anamorphic lens. He and Lathrop used the lens to carefully frame every scene to perfection. Characters, props, extras and backgrounds are beautifully woven together with a consistency that runs right from the first frame through to the last.
The use of colour is another important aspect of Point Blank’s visual style. As Walker paced along his path of retribution, Boorman used clever changes in colour – from the environments right down to the clothing of the players – to illustrate the character’s destructive journey through the hierarchy of 'The Organisation.' Furthermore, Boorman had a great knack for knowing when to sacrifice narrative logic for thematic and emotional logic, leading to some eerie scenes as rooms and houses seemingly rearrange themselves around Walker.
Regarding the man himself, few roles gave Lee Marvin the chance to totally inhabit a character like Walker did. As he and Boorman sketched out what they wanted to achieve with the film, Marvin aimed to use Walker as a chance to explore his own personality as a decorated World War II veteran who went on to make a career out of playing stone cold killers. That may sound pat, but Walker is no ordinary hit man; he’s damaged goods, a spirit of his former self, ostensibly searching for $93 000 but really searching for his own humanity. Walker may beat many a grunt senseless in Point Blank but, strangely, he never actually kills anyone. Instead, he’s merely a harbinger who watches the destruction and death his presence brings.
For the time, this was not a screenwriter’s film. It would be hard to imagine any late 60s major studio backing a spec script that would have hinted at the final cut. But Boorman and Marvin had a real gift for storytelling. They both understood that the film was Walker’s emotional journey and invested themselves completely in the development of the character. That’s why the pair could afford at times to buck narrative logic and traditional plot development, because they weren’t prepared to abandon their character and his emotional development. Their instincts proved to be correct, the result being a compelling character study and arguably the greatest film of 1967.
Check out the original preview for Point Blank below:
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