A revenant’s revenge – John Boorman’s Point Blank

“I bet you’re a big Lee Marvin fan, aren’t you?” If you are, you’ll rate Point Blank highly, especially as he and director John Boorman considered it a metaphysical exploration of the actor’s troubled soul.

Boorman and Marvin struck up an enduring friendship when they met during Marvin’s filming of The Dirty Dozen. For this adaptation of Donald E  Westlake’s crime novel The Hunter (written under his pseudonym Richard Stark, and rebranded Point Blank for film), Marvin hand picked John Boorman to direct. Prior to this, Boorman had only made Catch Us If You Can, a picaresque tale following The Dave Clark Five, in the style of A Hard Day’s Night. This was an astonishing act of faith on Marvin’s part. He told a meeting of studio executives: “I have script approval, yes? And I have approval of principal cast, yes? I defer those approvals to John,” and walked out. John Boorman thus had an auteur’s control over a film made with all the support structure of MGM in the dying days of the old studio system. It was a chance to elevate pulp material to something quite extraordinary. It was released in 1967 a few weeks after Bonnie And Clyde: both were heavily influenced by the French New Wave, but Point Blank is to my mind far more daring and avant garde.

“Somebody has to pay”

Marvin and Boorman dispensed with the linear script in short order (Boorman joked that Mel Gibson must have picked it up for his inferior remake Payback, after Marvin tossed it out the window). Instead, they went with an equivical, free flowing loose narrative, driven by Walker’s brutal quest, that Steven Soderbergh describes as “a memory film for him.” On one level, Point Blank is a straight modern noir: Walker is double crossed and left for dead by his unfaithful wife Lynne (Sharon Acker), and best friend Mal Reese (John Vernon), during a robbery of a money drop on Alcatraz Island. Walker cuts a swathe through the ranks of The organisation (“I want my $93,000“), but is ultimately a patsy. On the other, it can be considered Oneiric: a fractured dream state, where Walker’s spirit image leaves his broken body in a bid to reconnect with life. Certainly, the pre-shooting Walker is expressive, emotional – he is surprised and alarmed by Mal shooting the delivery men. In his quest afterwards, he is driven, an implacable, physical force, a revenant, empty inside. The structure of the film also suggests he is projecting a wish fulfilment revenge fantasy, the mysterious Yost (Keenan Wynn) a reflection of his solopsism: his spirit guide, or puppet master.

Yost and Walker barely look at each other on the tour ferry, where Walker listens to the guide describe the impossibility of escape from the former prison island, confirming Walker’s mythic status. Yost pushes him in the direction of his wife’s new address (she absconded with Mal). There follows a sequence where Walker strides down a long straight corridor, intercut with Lynne getting dressed, then in a beautician’s (being prepared for the after life? Her face cream a death mask). Walker storms into the house after her, and empties a revolver into her empty bed, expressive of his cuckolded frustration. This memorable scene transcends mere genre.

After he shoots up the bed, he starts at his own reflection. What does he see there? Spent, he flops on the sofa and empties his gun, cartridges spilling on the coffee table. Lynne wearily engages him in one sided conversation, barely acknowledging his physical presence, as if he isn’t really there – One of Marvin’s many suggestions. All the colours at this stage, including their costumes, are various shades of grey, as if he is in a state of transition through an undead hinterland. Later segments of the film have their own colour schemes too.

Walker gazes as the multi coloured liquids from Lynne’s broken shampoo and perfume bottles swirl down the bath plug hole, as if her essence is draining away. We next see him in her now empty house, divested of furniture and fittings, even her dead body. He sinks into a corner, meant to resemble the same pose he adopted in the cell after he is shot. This film plays with time and memory in so many ways. A later sequence of Walker and Lynne’s sister Chris (Angie Dickinson)  tumbling over in bed, switches between different partners – Mal and Lynne, Walker and Lynne, Chris and Mal, highlighting the twisted dynamics at play. Steven Soderbergh admits he liberally “stole” from Point Blank in many of his films, most especially the cross-cutting  of the lobby / bedroom scene in Out Of Sight, and many editing choices in The Limey (Point Blank, The Limey and Get Carter – there’s a triple bill!).

Chris is introduced in a pose eerily reminiscent to the discovery of her dead sister, asleep in bed, after taking sleeping tablets. Walker seems to rouse her to a state of action, as an unwilling accomplice to bring down Mal. Just as Lynne was dressed in greys, for death, Chris is in yellow, a warm, life giving colour. Walker’s tones now match. When they spy on Mal’s heavily guarded apartment building, The Huntley, Boorman even paints the sea front telescope to match:

Chris is repulsed by Mal, who is fixated on her, as Walker is fixated on him. She despises Walker for using her as a “trojan horse” and later lays into him. Previously, Dickinson and Marvin worked together on The Killing, and she never forgave him for dangling her out of a window. Here, she gets her revenge. With no sneaky camera angles, we can plainly see her repeatedly strike Marvin / Walker hard across the face, and pummel his chest, until she / Chris, sinks to the floor, drained. Marvin / Walker calmly, impassively takes it, then goes and sits down. Boorman believed Marvin’s tough film roles were a catharsis for the brutalizing experiences he had as a very young Marine in the Pacific theatre of WWII. Marvin knew this scene would look good done for real, and took it.

The colour scheme to reflect emotional states continues with the Cineplex Corporation, or “The organisation” – in Point Blank, the mob is a corporate entity, baffled by Walker’s demands for his money – “There probably isn’t $20.00 in the entire building!” In fact, with its stark modernistic corporate vision of L.A, the decaying spooky Alcatraz money drop, and the pulsating night club dust up; the flash backs and cross-cutting, characters obscured by bars, blinds, psychedelic lighting; Point Blank is a visual feast – Antonioni meets Alphaville, anamorphic style. Rarely has a crime film looked and sounded so distinctive.

There is sly humour as well. Upon taking The organisation’s Stegman (Michael Strong) for a destructive “test drive” in a convertible from his car lot business, Walker buckles up: “Most accidents happen within three miles of home,” he pleasantly states. Later, turning up at the luxury home in the hills used by Brewster, the confrontation doesn’t go quite the way a noir audience would expect. Surprised, Brewster (Carroll O’Connor) points his finger up at the towering interloper: “You’re a very bad man, Walker, a very destructive man!” as if he is a recalcitrant child. Mentally disarmed, Walker crumples in confusion. “I-I just want my money.” Frustrated, he shoots the telephone. Marvin essays absolute stillness until he erupts in elemental, primitive force. For a figure so feared, Walker never actually kills anyone. Is he dangerous because he represents the idea of independence, autonomy? He moves through the moment but is disassociated from what is going on. More reasons to believe he may not be real.

When Walker is finally offered his money by accompanying another money drop robbery where it all started, on Alcatraz, he fades back into the shadows, the netherworld, Yost yelling his name. Like Guy pierce’s Leonard Shelby in Memento, confronted by an end to his quest, he walks away from completion, because there is nothing beyond what is now.

After Lee Marvin died, his widow Pamela offered John Boorman any of Lee’s possessions as a keepsake. Boorman chose to take Marvin’s shoes from this film. I trust everytime he sees them, he visualises Lee Marvin striding down that long corridor, ready to give it to some sucker, “Point Blank”.

Video via Vashi Nedomansky ( @vashikoo ) H/T @LaFamiliaFilm

Originally posted 2012-05-28 14:32:44. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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