Action/Adventure Mystery/Noir

Point Blank

The above is one of the many memorable shots (accompanied by even more memorable sound!) in this week’s film recommendation, Director John Boorman’s outstanding 1967 US debut film: Point Blank. Point Blank weds the style and techniques of 1960s experimentalism with the traditional gangster/crime melodrama, with unique and unforgettable results.

The film begins with a literal bang, pulling us into a world of brutality and revenge. And then a strange, almost unbelievable story begins as a criminal named Walker who by all rights should be dead (Lee Marvin, in a powerhouse performance) somehow overcomes his fate and launches a ferocious, violence-filled pursuit of former navy buddy Mal Reese (John Vernon, in a strong cinema debut) and his own faithless wife (Sharon Acker, also very good) who betrayed him during a stick-up. He is aided by the mysterious Mr. Yost (Keenan Wynn) who appears at odd moments to provide advice, speaking to no one but Walker. Is Yost a ghost? Is what we are seeing all the fantasy of a dying man, or is it real? I’ve seen this film multiple times and I still can’t decide; I also can’t stop re-watching this magnetic piece of art.

Adding to the atmosphere is radical use of color that recalls Red Desert. Watch carefully the progression of monochromatic scenes in this film (at left is one of the “yellow” scenes with screen siren Angie Dickinson playing Walker’s sister-in-law), which resonate with Walker’s emotions and the state of his quest. Distorted microphone effects, camera shots and the like are also used to tremendous effect, as are dreamlike scenes without any dialogue (or in one case, only half of a conversation, an amazing improvisation by Marvin). Phillip Lathrop contributes many moody, lonely camera shots that further accentuate the film’s tone. The story, which was based on a Donald Westlake novel, also pushes the boundaries of the period, with graphic violence and the strong suggestion of a sexual link between the two male leads.

The studio executives hated the movie that their young director had created, but Lee Marvin used his enormous star power to ram it down their throats as is. There was clearly more to the man than his drunken brawler image. I can’t say enough good things about what he and Boorman created…don’t miss this one, and have fun analyzing it afterwards!

p.s. Intriguing interview with Boorman about his career available here.