Saturday, February 16, 2013

Point Blank 1967

"All's I Want Is My $97,000"   

     Lee Marvin in one of his best roles stomps, punches and shoots his way thru (and up) a corporate like crime organization in this 1967 psychedelic neo-noir directed by John Boorman.  After the robbery of a money drop on Alcatraz Island, Walker (Lee Marvin - we never do learn his first name) is double crossed and shot by his partner Mel Reese (John Vernon), who then leaves with Walkers wife Lynn (Sharon Acker). Walker mysteriously recovers and then wades in San Francisco Bay and begins his vendetta, seeming on the surface to be only interested in the exact sum of his share of the robbery take. Later he meets up with his wife's sister Chris played by Angie Dickinson who seems to be alternately drawn and repelled by him. In one of the more shocking scenes in the movie she viciously beats and slaps him before collapsing at his feet , while the whole time Marvin stands there emotionless.
   Starting with his ex-wife, Marvin stalks thru the movie like an angel of death showing no remorse or emotion as everybody he comes in contact with dies, but only indirectly as a result of him. He never actually kills anyone in the course of the movie, but almost everyone is killed by various circumstances of his quest. In flashbacks we see the idyllic life he led with his wife (with a sweet looking & smiling Marvin) and friend Reese. It is his loyalty to help out his friend (who needs the money to pay off what he owes to the mob) that leads to his betrayal and because of Marvin's great portrayal we root for him.  As he strides down an empty hallway with his shoes loudly echoing, the scene cuts back and forth to his wife goes thru her daily routines - maybe he's only mad that his life was destroyed and the money is just an excuse he tells people.
   Boorman presents the mob organization as a modern faceless corporation with glass high rises, secretaries and board of directors, while Walker seems almost like throwback to the past as he shoots phones and rips apart intercoms. Kind of like Peckinpah's Wild Bunch he's a man out of touch which make him an even more sympathetic character. He's cold, violent guy who stomps around all this contemporary 1960's architecture like an animal hunting his prey, but he's also the little guy bashing his head against the system (not unlike Jack Nicholson's classic restaurant scene in Five Easy Pieces).

    On one hand this reads like a standard revenge movie, but Boorman uses flash forwards (and backwards) cross scene sound effects and scene specific color schemes that give the whole movie a strange dream-like atmosphere. At one point Walker hooks up with a mysterious stranger (Keenan Ween) who helps point him toward the next person in line like a guardian angel (or maybe an apparition ?). The violence in the movie is short and begins with a startling swiftness and the fights are brutal in their simplicity as when Walker punches one man in the crotch or smashes another's face with a pistol as he walks thru a doorway. At the end of the movie we are left to wonder - was this just a quest for money, a payback for a ruined life or just a dying man's dream of revenge ?

   Marvin joined the USMC in 1942 at age 17 and was wounded at the battle of Saipan in 1944. He was awarded the Purple Heart and given a medical discharge. He drifted around in various jobs and only got into acting by mistake, mostly playing villains and won an Oscar for for a comedic role in Cat Ballou (1965).  I think Point Blank is his best role and after watching The Klansman (1974 - see post below), it was really good to be reminded how great he was. Plus, its his birthday on Feb. 19
   I gotta admit I love Angie Dickinson. It's really fascinating to watch her grow as in an actress in her roles. She got her first big role in Howard Hawks 1959 Rio Bravo (a great movie- but she's pretty weak in it) and then moving on Oceans 11 (1960) and Don Siegel's originally made for TV (but too violent so released theatrical) version of The Killers from 1964. She was really starting to come into her own by the time of Point Blank and in my humble opinion is one of the most beautiful women ever in the movies.
   A few words about John Vernon. Best remembered today for Animal House and his exploitation roles in such stuff as Savage Streets (1984) and Chained Heat (1983). He's one of my favorite actors appearing in among others, Dirty Harry (1971) and the great Charley Varrick (1973), both directed by Don Siegel.
  Luckily Warner has released Point Blank on DVD in beautiful anamorphic transfer with an informative commentary by  John Boorman and director Steven Soderbergh (a huge fan of the movie - just watch The Limey sometime to see how much) who admits two minutes into the commentary of stealing from it often. He does an excellent job of prodding and questioning Boorman on various aspects of the film and his career. Boorman mentions how bad the original script was and notes how it was used for 1999's remake Payback starring Mel Gibson which pretty much is a straight ahead action/revenge movie.  Look for Sid Haig in a small role and also an excellent turn by Carroll O'Connor as a mob executive.

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