Point Blank (1967 film)
original theatrical poster
|Directed by||John Boorman|
|Produced by||Judd Bernard
|Written by||Alexander Jacobs
|Based on||The Hunter
by Richard Stark
|Music by||Johnny Mandel|
|Cinematography||Philip H. Lathrop|
|Edited by||Henry Berman|
|Box office||$3,200,000 (US/ Canada)|
Point Blank is a 1967 American neo-noir crime film directed by John Boorman, starring Lee Marvin and featuring Angie Dickinson, adapted from the crime noir pulp novel The Hunter by Donald E. Westlake, writing as Richard Stark. Boorman directed the film at Marvin's request and Marvin played a central role in the film's development and staging. The film was not a box office success in 1967 but has since gone on to become a cult classic, eliciting praise from such critics as film historian David Thomson.
Walker (Lee Marvin) works together with his friend Mal Reese (John Vernon in his first major role) to steal a large amount of cash from a courier transporting funds for a major gambling operation, with the deserted Alcatraz island as a drop point. Reese then double-crosses Walker by shooting him, leaving him for dead. Reese also makes off with Walker's wife Lynne (Sharon Acker).
Walker recovers. With assistance from the mysterious Yost (Keenan Wynn), who seems to know everything about everybody, Walker sets out to find Reese, take his revenge and recover the $93,000 he is owed. Reese used all of the money from the job to pay back a debt to a crime syndicate called "The Organization" and get back in its good graces.
With memories of happy times together, Walker goes to Los Angeles to pay back his wife and his best friend for their treachery. He bursts in on Lynne and riddles her bed with bullets, just in case Reese is in it. A distraught Lynne tells him she no longer wants to live, then takes an overdose of pills.
Walker is told that a car dealer named Stegman (Michael Strong) might know where Reese can be found. He takes Stegman for a wild ride in one of his new cars, being careful to fasten his own seatbelt first, smashing the car and terrorizing him until Stegman reveals where Reese is living. He is told that Reese has now taken up with Walker's sister-in-law, Chris.
Breaking in on Chris (Angie Dickinson), he learns that she actually despises Reese and had considered Walker the best thing ever to happen to her sister. Willing to help in any way, Chris agrees to a sexual tryst with Reese inside his heavily guarded penthouse apartment just so she can gain access and unbolt a door for Walker. Walker ties up some men in an apartment across from the penthouse and has a call made to police to report a robbery, creating a diversion that enables him to slip into the penthouse.
With a gun to Reese's head, Walker persuades him to give up the names of his organization superiors – Carter, Brewster and Fairfax – so that he can make somebody pay back his $93,000. He then forces a naked Reese off the balcony and watches him plunge to his death.
After next confronting Carter (Lloyd Bochner) for his money, Walker is set up. A hit man (James B. Sikking) with a high-powered rifle is waiting to kill him from several hundred yards away at a money-drop in a storm-drain river bed. Walker sees to it that Carter and Stegman (who was supposed to hand Walker the package with the money) are the ones who get shot.
Yost takes him to a home belonging to Brewster (Carroll O'Connor). Walker visits Chris in her apartment, which has been trashed by the Organization. He brings her with him to the home belonging to Brewster, claiming she'll be safer with him than by herself. Walker waits for Brewster to return there. Angry at Walker's apparent disinterest in her, Chris slaps and punches him as he regards her impassively, not defending himself. Then they make love. The following morning, Brewster comes home and is ambushed by Walker, who demands his money. Brewster insists that no one will pay. Walker says that if Brewster won't pay, he will kill him and try Fairfax next. Brewster explains that he is about to have Fairfax eliminated in order to take his place, and that he will get Walker the money after all.
They return to Fort Point in San Francisco. Brewster brings a case in which he claims to have the money. Walker doesn't trust him and refuses to show himself. The hit man is also in the darkness with his rifle. Brewster is shot. Yost emerges from the shadows, whereupon Brewster calls out to Walker: "This is Fairfax! Kill him!"
Yost/Fairfax thanks Walker – still hiding in the darkness – for eliminating his dangerous underlings and offers him an enforcer job, claiming he has looked for a man like him for years. Walker remains silent and does not bother collecting the money. Yost/Fairfax and the hit man leave.
Director John Boorman met Lee Marvin while on the set of The Dirty Dozen in London. Boorman and Marvin talked about a script based on the book The Hunter. Both hated the script but loved the main character of Walker. When they agreed to work on the film, Marvin threw the script out the window. Marvin called up a meeting with the head of the studio, the producers, his agent and Boorman. Boorman recalls, "[Marvin] said, 'I have script approval?' They said 'yes'. 'And I have approval of principal cast?'. 'Yes'. He said, 'I defer all those approvals to John [Boorman].' And he walked out. So on my very first film in Hollywood, I had final cut and I made use of it."
The unusual structure of the film was due in part to the original script and developments during the course of shooting the film. Rehearsals took place at Marvin's house in Los Angeles. On the rehearsal day in which Marvin asked Sharon Acker what happened to the money, Marvin had lines which he did not speak and forced Acker to continue the conversation on her own. "I saw right away he was right," replied Boorman, "Lee never made suggestions. He would just show you." So Boorman changed the lines in the script so that Acker would essentially ask and answer Marvin's questions, and the result is in the finished film. "It made a conventional scene something more," added Boorman.
This was the first film ever to shoot at Alcatraz, the infamous prison which had been shut down since 1963, only three years before the production. Two weeks in the abandoned prison facility required the services of 125 crew members. While Marvin and Wynn enjoyed shooting on location, Wynn was concerned about the weather and the need to loop half the dialogue. During the shoot, Angie Dickinson and Sharon Acker modeled contemporary fashions for a Life magazine exclusive against the backdrop of the prison. Acker was accidentally hurt by the blanks that Vernon used to shoot at Marvin early in the film.
Director Boorman chose locations that were "stark." For example, the airplane terminal walkway that Marvin walked down originally had flower pots lining the walls. Boorman had the pots taken out to "make it all bare."
After Boorman showed the finished cut to executives, they were "very perplexed and mumbling about reshoots". Margaret Booth, a legendarily traditional-minded supervising editor on the picture, told Boorman as the execs filed out, "You touch one frame of this film over my dead body!"
In her 1967 New Yorker review of Bonnie and Clyde, Pauline Kael wrote: "A brutal new melodrama is called Point Blank, and it is." Kael later called the film "intermittently dazzling". Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and said "as suspense thrillers go Point Blank is pretty good." Leonard Maltin gave the film three and a half stars: "Taut thriller, ignored in 1967, but now regarded as a top film of the decade."
Slant Magazine reviewer Nick Schager notes in a 2003 review: "What makes Point Blank so extraordinary, however, is not its departures from genre conventions, but Boorman's virtuoso use of such unconventional avant-garde stylistics to saturate the proceedings with a classical noir mood of existential torpor and romanticized fatalism."
Viewers and critics have often questioned whether or not the film is really a dream that Walker has after he is shot in the very beginning. Director Boorman claims to not have an opinion on the matter. "What it is is what you see," responded Boorman. Steven Soderbergh has described Point Blank as "memory film" for Marvin. Boorman believes the film is about Lee Marvin's brutalizing experiences in World War II, which dehumanized him and left him desperately searching for his humanity.
Critic David Thomson has written that the character of Walker is actually dead throughout the entire movie and the events of the film are a dream of the accumulating stages of revenge. Others have also considered this concept: Brynn White has questioned whether or not Walker is a mortal or a ghost, "a vaporous embodiment of bitter vengeance barely clinging to Boorman’s variegated frames", and Boorman himself has commented that: "He could just as easily be a ghost or a shadow". Some critics consider Point Blank, "a haunted, dream-like film that draws upon the spatial and temporal experiments of modernist European art cinema", especially the "time-fractured" films of french director Alain Resnais.
Point Blank combines elements of film noir with stylistic touches of the European nouvelle vague. The film features a fractured time-line, disconcerting narrative rhythms (long slow passages contrasted with sudden outbursts of violence) and a carefully calculated use of film space (stylized compositions of concrete riverbeds, sweeping bridges, empty prison cells). Boorman credits Marvin with coming up with a lot of the visual metaphors in the film. Boorman said that as the film progressed, scenes in the film would be filmed monochromatically around one particular color (the chilly blues and grays of Acker's apartment, Dickinson's butter yellow bathrobe, the startling red wall in Vernon's penthouse) to give the proceedings a "sort of unreality".
To establish Walker's mythic stature, Soderbergh noted in the commentary that the film cuts from a shot of Walker swimming from Alcatraz to a shot of him on a ferry overlooking the same island while a woman on the loudspeaker describes the impossibility of leaving the island. Soderbergh said that this contrast of the character's ease of escape with the loudspeaker's monologue makes the Walker character "mythic immediately."
Point Blank is hailed in the book 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die as "The perfect thriller in both form and vision." Film historian David Thomson calls the film a masterpiece. Thomson adds, "[...] this is not just a cool, violent pursuit film, it is a wistful dream and one of the great reflections on how movies are fantasies that we are reaching out for all the time—it's singin' in the rain again, the white lie that erases night." Director Steven Soderbergh has said that he used stylistic touches from Point Blank many times in his filmmaking career.
The Hunter was also the basis for Brian Helgeland's Payback (1999), starring Mel Gibson. Director Boorman has joked that Payback was so bad that Mel Gibson must have taken the original script for Point Blank that Boorman and Marvin had thrown out.
On March 29, 1968, Point Blank was screened at Cinelândia movie theaters in order to protest the murder of 18-year-old high school student Edson Luís de Lima Souto by the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro. Souto was shot at point-blank range. Phrases such as "Do bullets kill hunger?", "Old people in power, young people in coffin", and "They killed a student... what if it was your son?" were written by protesters in the movie posters. The aftermath of Souto's death was one of the first major public protests against the Brazilian military government.
- "Big Rental Films of 1968", Variety, 8 January 1969 p 15. Please note this figure is a rental accruing to distributors.
- Commentary by John Boorman and Steven Soderbergh. [DVD audio commentary]. Turner Entertainment. 2005.
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- The Rock: Part 1. [Featurette]. Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, CA: MGM. 1968.
- The Rock: Part 2. [Featurette]. Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, CA: MGM. 1968.
- Kael, Pauline (1968). Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 0-7145-0658-3.
- Kael, Pauline (1991). 5001 Nights at the Movies. Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-1367-9.
- Ebert, Roger (October 20, 1967). "Point Blank". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2006-09-12.
- Maltin, Leonard (August 2008). Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide (2009 ed.). New York, NY: Penguin Group. p. 1081. ISBN 978-0-452-28978-9.
- Schager, Nick (July 24, 2003). "Point Blank". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 2007-09-21.
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- Thomson, David (2012). The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies. New York: Macmillan. p. 406. ISBN 978-0-374-19189-4. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
- Ruffles, Tom (2004). Ghost Images: Cinema of the Afterlife. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. p. 237. ISBN 0-7864-2005-7. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
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- Erickson, Glenn. "Point Blank". TCM Classic Movies. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
- Applegate, Tim (2002). "Remaking Point Blank". The Film Journal (8). Retrieved 2011-01-19.
- Schneider, Stephen Jay (Editor) (October 1, 2008). 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (Fifth ed.). Hauppauge, New York: Barron's Educational Series. p. 472. ISBN 978-0-7641-6151-3.
- Thomson, David (October 26, 2010). The New Biographical Dictionary of Film: Fifth Edition, Completely Updated and Expanded (Hardcover ed.). Knopf. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-307-27174-7.
- Thomson, David (October 14, 2008). "Have You Seen . . . ?": A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films. New York, NY: Random House. p. 680. ISBN 978-0-307-26461-9.
- (Portuguese) "Brasil 1968: "Mataram um estudante. Podia ser seu filho". Esquerda.Net. May 12, 2008. (originally published in O Globo on March 2, 2008).