Lee Marvin was one tough son of a bitch both onscreen and off, awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded by a machine gun blast in WWII. The ex-Marine stumbled into acting post-war, and Hollywood beckoned in the 1950’s. His imposing presence typecast him as a villain in films like HANGMAN’S KNOT, THE BIG HEAT , and BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK. A three season stint in TV’s M SQUAD brought Marvin more acclaim, and he solidified that with his Oscar-winning role in CAT BALLOU, parodying his own tough-guy image. Marvin was now a star that could call his own shots, and used that clout in POINT BLANK, throwing out the script and collaborating with a young director he had faith in, John Boorman.
POINT BLANK is a highly stylized revenge drama centering on Marvin’s character of Walker. The nightmarish opening sequence shows how Walker was left for dead on deserted Alcatraz Island by his partner-in-crime, Reese. The pair was heisting mob money from the drop site at the former prison, when Reese shoots down Walker and absconds with not only the cash, but Walker’s wife. Somehow Walker survives the point-blank gundown and escapes the island. This is never explained, which has led some critics to believe Walker is an Avenging Angel from Hell (or “The Walker Dead”, if you will). I’m not among that crowd, but I do like the fact that Walker’s unexplained return is left open to interpretation.
The film then becomes a series of violent set pieces as Walker goes after Reese and the men who owe him $93,000, guided by the mysterious Mr. Yost. My favorite of these is when Walker takes used car dealer Stegman for a ride he’ll never forget, smashing the car into concrete supports under a bridge in order to learn Reese’s whereabouts. The movie continues in this vein right to its conclusion, as both Walker and Yost end up getting what they wanted all along.
British director Boorman had one feature under his belt, the 1965 rock romp HAVING A WILD WEEKEND starring The Dave Clark Five. He makes the movie a hip 60’s take on film noir, with splashy colors in place of chiaroscuro lighting. Boorman’s shot selection and pacing gives POINT BLANK a dreamlike quality usually reserved for films more arthouse than grindhouse. The director would go on to work with Marvin again in the war drama HELL IN THE PACIFIC before scoring big with 1972’s DELIVERANCE. His body of work includes the sci-fi cult classic ZARDOZ, the King Arthur tale EXCALIBUR, and the Oscar nominated HOPE AND GLORY.
The cast is filled with fine character actors, with Angie Dickinson at her 60’s sexiest best as Walker’s sister-in-law, who knows more than she lets on. John Vernon (Dean Wormer in NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE) makes his film debut as Reese. Keenan Wynn is the mystery man Yost, while Lloyd Bochner, Carroll O’Connor, and James B. Sikking are prominently featured. Sharon Acker plays Walker’s doomed wife, and Sid Haig, Bill Hickman, Kathleen Freeman, and Felix Silla (THE ADDAMS FAMILY’s Cousin Itt) can be found in small roles.
POINT BLANK is based on a novel by the great crime writer Donald E. Westlake. The Edgar Award winning writer was a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, and wrote the screenplays for the films THE STEPFATHER and THE GRIFTERS. Some of Westlake’s other novels adapted for the screen were THE SPLIT (starring Jim Brown), THE HOT ROCK, THE OUTFIT, and BANK SHOT. POINT BLANK was remade as PAYBACK with Mel Gibson in the Marvin role. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t hold a candle to the original. POINT BLANK may be a case of style over substance, but that style is a joy to watch if you’re a lover of crime thrillers. It’s a movie you’ll want to watch again just to see if you missed anything!