Point Blank

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“Somebody’s gotta pay…”

Revenge is a fruitful story subject; there’s good reason The Count of Monte Cristo has been adapted to film numerous times and inspired countless knockoffs and variations. Monte Cristo was a righteous man wronged, but it’s just as much fun to see a flawed or outright bad guy get double crossed, become sort of heroic by gaining your sympathy as they deal out revenge on their own kind, and John Boorman’s 1967 movie Point Blank is one of the best movie examples of that type.

It only takes about 5 minutes of disordered but cleverly assembled shots, stunning visuals and brief snatches of dialogue for the viewer to figure out what’s gone on to this point and what the movie will be about. John Vernon talks Lee Marvin into a heist of the regular “Alcatraz Drop,” immediately after which Vernon shoots Marvin, leaves him for dead in one of the cells and makes off with Marvin’s share of the loot and his wife Sharon Acker. You see, Vernon had estimated a much larger take and needs all the money to pay his way into the “organization.” Many months later, Marvin comes back for revenge, stepping through a minefield of destruction, making his way first to his wife, then her sister Angie Dickinson, Vernon and all the steps up the ladder to the top of the organization, and somehow right back where he started.

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Point Blank has so much going on you hardly know where to begin talking about it. For starters, its look is amazing. Its heavy, constant fixation on impressive man made construction makes buildings and architecture a character in the movie, and also uses them to remind you that the story is itself an intricate structure that clicks together like a set of Lego, making a tight and solid and colourful structure. Like the imposing cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles, the crime “organization” increasingly seems a impenetrable hive-mind, an immovable bureaucratic structure, set against Marvin as one man with a simple, instinctual desire: “Do you mean to say, you’d bring down this immense organization for a paltry $93,000?” Marvin covers almost the whole city, constantly interacting with imposing architecture and famous landmarks but wait: does he really ever make it out of the inescapable Rock?

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The look of Point Blank is dreamlike, it’s gorgeous and creative without arty excess, it’s stark with harsh, drastic and dizzying angles and long, intimidating perspective. The players are seen disappearing behind walls and filmed through grates, down ramps and halls, pictured from and into ascending elevators, along rooftops, tunnels and bridges, in bright sunlight at the famous aqueduct, or hidden in ink dark shadows. The fashion and decor are obviously very much of the era but still, very little is laughably dated, and most remains stylish and attractive.

The dialogue is pithy and pointed, necessary, thrifty, just facts. The scenes are cut to match, efficient, so the instant Dickinson says “Huntley House,” your eyes are on that very building’s facade, and when she describes the penthouse, you’re looking at it. When Marvin listens to the spiel meant for tourists, about how nobody escapes from Alcatraz, you see him flashing back to how he (maybe) did just that.

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Sounds abruptly punctuate cuts and introduce new scenes, colours are matched and themed to sequences of events, like the yellow of Dickinson’s dress and coin operated beach telescope, which is brought through to Vernon’s penthouse decor and Marvin’s outfit. Of course the most famous of these combos of audiovisual is the part with Marvin walking (so he’s named Walker, get it?), his hard soled click-steps echoing through a long colourfully tiled hall at LAX, then clicking all the way through the next long sequence of scenes, the unbreaking stride that signals his relentless approach and determination while his targets obliviously go about their usual business. Another nice example is the brawl set to the nightclub act; as the band improvs a call and response, it continues frantically while Marvin beats up a couple of henchmen in the club’s bathroom.

Marvin, always the definition of movie cool, is downright chilling here, like an unstoppable horror movie figure, like a ghost version of himself. Just when you think he’s emotionless, he almost tells Dickinson to take care of herself, but instead says, “don’t get lost out there.” With the most stoic bearing he sneaks right past a horde of security into Vernon’s place, stands like a marble statue absorbing Dickinson’s beating until she can swing no more, and we can’t forget how completely he wrecks a really nice Imperial convertible, as well as its salesman, during a hilarious test drive– “Most accidents happen within three miles from home.” He gets only momentarily, only slightly ruffled when he’s left clutching a bedsheet on a balcony (won’t spoil), hardly even fazed by having to go through the house unplugging all the appliances and electronics Dickinson has switched on, and turns it to his advantage when she clubs him upside the head with a billiard cue. As he says repeatedly, he’s just “Walker” and he just wants his money. He practically ceases to exist once he gets within reach of it.

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John Vernon, here first introduced to audiences, is great as a chiseled, brash, bombastic huckster who turns on his partner in crime. Watch as he starts to show stress cracks, having to ask slimy crime organization head Lloyd Bochner for help in repelling Marvin (which also means having to suffer Bochner’s smirking and barely concealed mockery of Vernon for letting this happen). That he faints when Marvin finally catches up to him is a great touch, as are the mix of his first begging scenes “you’re my only friend!” with him now begging for mercy. There are many more familiar faces, Keenan Wynn, Carroll O’Connor (“You’re a very bad man Walker a very destructive man!!”) Kathleen Freeman, James Sikking, to name a few. They get to be brilliant in just one line or scene. But once you’ve enjoyed the path of destruction left by Marvin and then tried to understand his decision at the end, stop to think a bit about whether he actually killed anybody, or was ever really there to begin with. Then go watch it again.

“How do you like that?”

“I like it.”

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this post is part of the 1967 IN FILM BLOGATHON hosted by Silver Screenings and  The Rosebud Cinema, click this banner to see all the great posts

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29 thoughts on “Point Blank”

  1. Ahhh, the Lee Marvin factor. It is such a joy to see the man in his prime stardom years. Great job on a great film. Due to his war record and hard drinking, he is truly a force in this era. There is no way it’s all just an “act”.

  2. Lee Marvin’s Walker is the like an early model of the Terminator. I was never a fan of Dickinson, but she’s pretty good in this. Yet, obviously Marvin is the start and he plays Walker for all he’s worth.

    1. I read how Lee wanted Peggy Lee for Dickinson’s role, interesting casting, Lee + Lee. He’s captivating and that’s a good comparison to the terminator. Thanks for reading

  3. Hi, Kristina — I’m pretty sure I taped this several years ago, watched maybe the first four minutes, and then turned it off. But because you recommend it, I am going to give it another try. Wish me luck!

    1. I think you should and would likely enjoy it, it very much falls in the neo-noir category, but with this existential twist that made me go “hmm” this time around. Thanks!

  4. Saw this on TCM last year and liked it a lot. Surprised to see Dean Wormer, aka John Vernon, as the main baddie. I’m not much of a Lee Marvin fan but I really was rooting for him to get his revenge.

  5. Great post- I’d initially thought about re-posting my old review of this for the blogathon, but decided against it because I wanted to read a fresher take on this classic. Good thing that I did!

    1. Thanks, It’s a movie that can stand multiple reviews since it can be a straight action movie, art movie and/or deep existential think piece (and that last one I never even considered til this rewatch).

  6. This sounds amazing! I love Lee Marvin as the bad guy any day, so I know I’d like this one.

    I read an article this week that said if the film shows the main character (good or bad) at a disadvantageous situation early in the film, the audience will stick with him and root for him throughout the film. Sounds like that’s the case with this one.

    Thanks for including this in the blogathon!

    1. Yes well put, that’s exactly the dynamic here, he ends up looking even better once you start getting into the mind games of what is real and what isn’t in the movie. Thanks for cohosting this fun event 🙂

  7. Can you count the Canadians in the cast? For me that’s part of the kick of the movie, a minor kick, but it’s there. The relentless drive of the movie is the thing that really grips me. Your analysis highlights things I want to revisit. Wonderful!

    1. Yes 🙂 three that I can spot, thanks for “point”ing that out! Yes it really moves, I can’t think of a dull moment even after a few rewatches when you know what’s coming. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  8. Need to rewatch this – I haven’t seen it for years! All I remember is the dreamlike quality and how much they were at odds with the clipped, sparse dialogue. It shouldn’t work but it does…

    1. It’s a good mix and very like noir in the clipped quality. But it gets you thinking about it maybe being a dream. Thanks for reading!

  9. Kristina, POINT BLANK was among the earliest revenge thrillers I first saw when I was a teen, and since I was always a fan of author Donald E. Westlake (including his hilarious Dortmunder comedy novels), it blew me away (not literally, of course :-))! BRAVA on a swell post, my friend, as always!

    1. Thank you! Same here I saw it so young when I probably didn’t get much of it other than it looking cool. Westlake is such a good writer, I wish way more books of his (and so many others like him) were adapted. Hollywood would never run out of material. Thank you and best to all

  10. I am feeling very silly at the moment because I thoroughly enjoyed Payback, the movie starring Mel Gibson as the one seeking revenge, and never realized I was watching a remake until I read this great review. Payback is a guilty pleasure, I’ll admit. I’ve seen it several times. I didn’t know there was a predecessor similarly amusing in its relentlessness and higher in quality. Thank you for enlightening me! Leah

    1. No need to feel silly! Movies are all about discovering new things. Anyway I like payback too, and knew about it first too. point blank is like the art house version 🙂 thanks so much for reading

  11. Wonderful write-up! I haven’t seen this but I’ve got a new found interest in Lee Marvin, and the cinematography in this judging by the screencaps is wonderful, so you’ve convinced me! Thanks for participating!

    1. it really is– the look is a huge part of my fascination with this movie. a lot of shots are suitable for framing 🙂 thanks for reading and for cohosting this really fun event.

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