Saturday, February 23, 2013

Point Blank (1967)

Director: John Boorman                               Writers: Alexander Jacobs & David Newhouse
Film Score: Johnny Mandel                          Cinematography: Philip A. Lathrop
Starring: Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, Keenan Wynn and Caroll O’Connor

Point Blank is a feverish dream of a film, an urban nightmare. Directed by John Boorman, his first feature film, he would go on to direct Deliverance, Hope and Glory and little else of any significance. But this is a fascinating start to his career and the sixties period suits the film perfectly. Lee Marvin plays the friend of a mobster, John Vernon, who owes the mob money and ropes Marvin into a score so that he can pay back his bosses and get back into their good graces. The film begins with Marvin being shot by Vernon and left for dead in order to get his share of the money. The rest of the film is Marvin trying to get his money. It’s that simple.

The whole thing borders on the comic, and it’s probably to Boorman’s credit that it doesn’t go over the line. But every step of the way there are moments. One fight scene in a “jazz” club with a screaming black vocalist, has Marvin roughing up two henchmen who have been sent to kill him. By the time he gets the first one out of the way he’s had enough and with his gun he punches the other one in the nuts to disable him. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen that obvious method used in a serious way. In another scene, Marvin is sneaking up to the penthouse which is being guarded by two goons. Angie Dickinson is the bait keeping Vernon occupied, and suddenly Boorman makes a direct cut to the henchmen out cold and tied up over the rail. I laughed out loud.

Throughout, Marvin is obsessed, but not in the usual way. He’s ice instead of fire. He plans, he waits, he strikes, never once second guessing himself and always a step ahead of the mob. The scene at the end of the film with Caroll O’Connor, after he's been wreaking havoc for ninety minutes, is priceless: he just wants his money. Johnny Mandel’s score is minimalist, at times atonal and dissonant, at times conventional, but overall used sparingly. The story is from a novel by Donald Westlake, one of his great Richard Stark novels. The camera work is typical of the period, and the San Francisco setting is reminiscent of Dirty Harry or Bullitt. It doesn’t reach the greatness of those two films, but it is worth seeing for the unconventional anti-hero and the great story.

Charles Taylor’s review of the film in The B List is insightful, delving not only into the intricacies of the film itself, but of Boorman as a director. His take on the film is one of mirroring the dissolution of the studio system and Boorman laying it out for all to see. Marvin, as the hero of the piece, is certainly an enigma, ice in his veins while going after his money, no emotion either positive--for the women in the story--or negative--for the villains he claims to be seeking revenge from. In terms of explaining Boorman, he’s far more generous than I am. In the end, however, Point Blank is a juggernaut of a crime drama, stripped bare and built for speed, and well worth taking for a spin.

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