fri 19/01/2018

Point Blank | reviews, news & interviews

Point Blank

Point Blank

John Boorman’s Hollywood debut changed film forever

Lee Marvin as Walker: 'I want my money. I want my $93,000.'

It begins with two gunshots. Lee Marvin is a guy who just wants his $93,000. "I want my money" is the mission statement for Point Blank, a film that is as timelessly entertaining as it is influential. But putting it that way doesn’t grab the sensation of watching a film that is so exciting you may forget to breathe for all 92 minutes of it.

Beginning as a film editor and then moving up through TV, Boorman, who also made Deliverance, Excalibur and Hope and Glory, wrote in his 2003 memoir Adventures of a Suburban Boy about the “essential mysteriousness of movies” - and Point Blank is an excellent example.

Starring Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, Keenan Wynn and John Vernon, Point Blank is rare filmic kismet - the sort that seems like a happy historical accident involving hard graft, art, craft and money. Point Blank’s director of photography Philip H Lathrop, editor Henry Berman, art directors Albert Brenner and George W. Davis and composer Johnny Mandel were (or became) Oscar winners or nominees. But all the money in the world and the “best” filmmaking brains available don’t guarantee an iconic film. For a film to be as viscerally powerful, visually arresting, emotionally shocking and lastingly beautiful as Point Blank, something else has to happen. Here, those things were a need for a hero like Walker and French New Wave fused with hardened American noir refined through the British filter of Boorman, all soldered together with Marvin’s own near-fatal experiences in World War Two.

Luck is also why Point Blank has an eternal quality missing in other films, but it's the kind of luck you make: here, via the intimate collaboration of Boorman and Marvin. Having met on the set of The Dirty Dozen in London, both liked Point Blank's source material but not the initial script (which ended up out the window and, some say, straight into the hands of Hollywood remakers). Boorman got final cut on this, his first Hollywood film, and Marvin and he worked very closely together to hone it. Boorman and Marvin remained friends til the actor’s death; Boorman’s 1998 TV documentary Lee Marvin: A Personal Portrait stands as testimony to their relationship.

From a screenplay by script doctor Alexander Jacobs, writer/film editor Rafe Newhouse and writer David Newhouse based on the novel The Hunter by Donald E. Westlake (writing as Richard Stark), the plot seems simple. Marvin is the aptly named Walker, a gangster who did time in Alcatraz, thanks to his friend Mal Reese (Vernon) who shot him and left him for dead, taking Walker’s wife Lynne with him.

Once out, Walker "wants his money" and will do anything to get it from the anomalous Organisation, the apparently respectable business where his old "friend" is now quite powerful. A man called Yost (Keenan Wynn) gives Walker new information on Reese and agrees to help Walker get his vengeance if Walker helps Yost destroy the Organisation. This is where Walker’s killing up-the-organisational-ladder begins. Although there are a lot of deaths in Point Blank, Walker isn’t the direct cause of all of them. He is fixated, however, and even Walker’s wife’s sister Chris (Dickinson, never more beautiful or human) can’t change that arc.

The chilling setup glows hot in Boorman's hands. A story of vengeance and justice that jumps the timeline, Point Blank is punched with sound and colour clues - and people may talk about Milton Franklin's sound design yet overlook the storyline's additional support from the wardrobe by Lambert Marks and Margo Weintz. Look and listen: this is film innovation as it happened in 1967 – and we’ve been watching its influence ever since. There could be no Dirty Harry without Point Blank. No Die Hard either – and certainly no The Wire, Homeland, et al. Made for $3m and not a success at the box office initially, Point Blank has been remade several times (Mel Gibson’s Payback is one). The original remains its most potent iteration.

  • Point Blank is in selected cinemas from Friday
  • The John Boorman season runs at BFI Southbank, London SE1 from March 25 until April 30

Watch the trailer for Point Blank

 

This is film innovation as it happened in 1967 – and we’ve been watching its influence ever since.

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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Comments

A truly remarkable film. The first 30 minutes in particular, are dazzling. Marvin was never better and set the template for years to come. Boorman's direction is masterly and his collaboration and subsequent friendship with Marvin shines through. They don't make 'em like this any more. See it, buy it, and watch it again and again. Gary.

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