Point Blank (1967) … Remembered

Point Blank is a 1967 film so deliberately sadistic that the New York Times said it was not a picture for anyone of delicate taste, which is putting it mildly. This film is underrated and not often mentioned, but I watched it because it goes beyond just your typical revenge thriller, and it becomes a stylistic and historically significant film. It is significant not just because it was the first film to shoot at Alcatraz, but it was quoted by several books and film historian David Thompson as one of the best stylized, crime or suspense thrillers around. Quite a statement. To judge this film for myself, I had a recent viewing.

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I am Captain Stoic.

As the movie begins, Walker, played by Lee Marvin, has flashbacks in a cell at Alcatraz. He lays there and reminds himself of what his friend Mal Reese said to him, so voices echo in his head like a crazy dude.  The two friends ambush some couriers carrying bags of money and Mal kills them, shooting them dead. Walker and Mal take the money, but find it is less than they thought. Sharon Acker plays Walker’s wife Lynne, and she tells him that the situation is a mess. I agree and so does Walker. It paints Lee Marvin’s character as not as bad as Mal.  Anti-hero, anyone?

After Mal shoots Walker, Mal steals his wife, the money, and probably whatever transportation they had. And this was the introduction. Walker slumps down into the cell, unmoving.  There is a montage of the burned out, broken, and abandoned prison, which could parallel Walker’s life at the moment. He later dives into the water surrounding the prison and the film cuts to an older Walker on a tourist boat cruising around the prison. It is a meeting spot for Walker and some shady character named Yost, who speaks to him about revenge on Mal and the “Organization”. Lee Marvin plays his role so stoically that I thought he was doing a Clint Eastwood impersonation.

We then follow Lynne and her new life away from Walker. We also follow Walker as he hunts her down and begins his revenge quest. He kicks open her door, barging in. He shoots wildly into the bedroom, expecting someone to be there, and tears up the place trying to find Mal. I expected him to be there too. She tells Walker that she doesn’t know where Mal is, but I’m not sure if that was true. As he walks around the room, Lee Marvin plays it perfectly, looking annoyed. He squints. There is another flashback as Lynne tells a story. At this point, I was hoping Lee Marvin would actually have some dialogue, because he’s as silent and cold as any man on film ever.

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Where is Mal?

At night, Walker recalls bursting into Lynne’s apartment and he dreams about it. Maybe he feels bad about it, because he goes to her bedroom, but finds her dead, having taken some pills. He stares at his reflection in a window doorwall, seeing the reflection of a broken man. Walker still has no dialogue at this point and we’re 20 minutes in. He returns to the bedroom and Lynne is gone, but I was curious if she was ever there. Walker seems in a daze, and he glances around the empty apartment, confirming that no one had ever been there. We flashback or flashforward or something next, where Walker forces a money carrier at the house to tell him that his boss is named Stegman.

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Who is that?

Walker goes to visit Stegman at a used-car lot, where Walker pretends to be an interested customer. We can see that Stegman is a jerk, a typical chauvinistic jackass. Walker takes him for a ride and tries to coerce Stegman into telling him where Mal is. Walker is off his rocker at this point and seems only concerned for revenge, which is alright by me, because it is pretty entertaining. He drives through a chain-link fence and destroys the car until Stegman tells him that Mal is with Lynne’s sister, Chris.

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I’m going to drive over your face, jackass.

blank5With no remorse, Walker visits a strange nightclub to find Chris and is directed to her apartment. Some of Stegman’s men try to catch him, but he beats up both of them. He brutally punches them, and I mean brutally, kicking and punching them where the sun don’t shine. We can see that Walker is all-action and has very little character. I would guess that there is not much human about him at this point. He has a discussion with Angie Dickinson’s character Chris, which is the best interaction in the movie so far. The only thing Walker can think about is getting back at his friend, Mal Reese.  And he wants his money.

Mal Reese is played by John Walker, who also played the mayor in Dirty Harry. He has a pretty good performance, and we can see Mal Reese become more paranoid about Walker as the movie goes on. The movie is only 90 minutes, so there is not much time for him to do that! Stegman meets with his boss, Mister Carter, who is an even more powerful man. Carter is a bit-part, but played strong by Lloyd Bochner, another face you might recognize from his many television roles. His character is a good parallel to Mal Reese, as it shows that Reese does have some depth after all, and Reese really is desperate to get Walker. Walker doesn’t wait around for them though, but is proactive, breaking into Mal’s penthouse. Like a true cold killer, Walker uses Chris as bait to get into the hotel.

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Mal Reese played by John Walker

This is where the movie delivers the goods and gets good. I have to complement Angie Dickinson on her performance during this lengthy middle scene, as she shows her nervousness while infiltrating the hotel. She unbolts the door for Walker. Finally, he gets into the apartment and holds a gun to Mal. In only a sheet, Walker drags him from bed and torments him until he gives up Carter. Walker throws a naked Mal from the top of the building and splats his brains. It is pretty cold. The only thing missing are some one-liners from Lee Marvin. Chris has the one-liner instead, as she reminds Walker that he died at Alcatraz and she’s right, he’s like a man possessed, a different person. Even after he gets his revenge on his friend Mal, he’s not done.  This is the middle of the movie, folks!

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Let’s see if you can fly, asswipe.

Walker confronts Carter and threatens him, but Carter plots against him when he’s gone. He uses Stegman to set up Walker, but Carter and Stegman are killed as a hitman accidentally shoots them instead of Walker. Walker then uses Yost as a contact to find Carter’s boss, Brewster. The revenge just keeps going, folks. On and on. The only person that even cares to be around him is Chris, and they go out for dinner. Walker glances around the restaurant, as if still paranoid. Walker holds up at Brewster’s house with Chris while they wait for him. Chris becomes as delusional as Walker. At one point, I wasn’t sure if what they were showing were real, because we get more flashes of Walker at Alcatraz, where he was shot by Mal. Whatever happened to that anyway?

The paralleling of the two sisters works, but it is curious who Walker really cares about, if anyone. Perhaps the flashbacks are supposed to clue us in to some regret he has about Lynne or Chris. Either way, Brewster finally arrives and demands to know what Walker really wants, a question the audience has been wondering for some time now. Brewster is played by Carol O’Connor and the evil corporate villain finally gets a little character.

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Edith!

Taking him back to Alcatraz, Brewster agrees to give Walker his money. Yost arrives and kills Brewster, thanking Walker for setting up all his not-so-nice pals. As if taunting him, Yost calls for Walker to come get his reward, but Walker disappears, walking off. We can see that in the end, it wasn’t about the money.

All in all, one can only wonder if this whole movie was only a disoriented dream, a revenge-filled fantasy of what Walker really wanted to happen upon realizing his friend Mal Reese had betrayed him. I can only agree. Walker appears like he is in a daze because he really is, and the dead man finally retreats into the darkness at the end, a realm that has cloaked his existence ever since the movie began. It is a bleak notion, as the movie tells us that even the revenge fantasy goes unsatisfied.  This movie plays with reality in a way that makes it unique, a true treat to watch and wonder about. Critics have said that this film breathed new life into neo-noir, as it melds the symbolic and realistic together, and presents a new, paranoid world of the 1970s never before seen on film. 

The director, John Boorman, presents Walker as a remorseless killer, lost in his own revengeful horrors, unable to accomplish much but prolong his agony. I was expecting a Dirty Harry type, like I alluded to earlier, but I got something far deeper. One can only wonder if this movie had some influence on Vertigo (1968), Momento (2001), or other psychological thriller films. This movie has a unique style and presence to it, making it one of the classics.

 

 

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