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Point Blank

Point Blank

By John Bleasdale • April 30th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5

Original release: August 30th, 1967
Running time: 92 minutes

Director: John Boorman
Writers: Alexander Jacobs, Davd Newhouse, Rafe Newhouse, Richard Stark

Cast: Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson and John

Point Blank

The take home scene of John Boorman’s art house noir Point Blank sees Hollywood hard man Lee Marvin as the aptly named Walker stomping down a seemingly endless corridor. His footfalls become a percussive soundtrack, the sound of a relentless will for revenge in hot pursuit of its victims. It’s a sound that escapes the image, marching into the soundtrack as a beat – not a heartbeat, there’s something distinctly heartless and robotic about his insistent stride – but nonetheless a beat denoting some sort of mechanical vitality.

It’s hard to believe Sergio Leone didn’t have the scene in mind when he allowed a telephone to go on ringing for minutes on end during the prologue of Once Upon A Time in America (1984). Both films have much to do with betrayal and vengeance, but whereas Leone’s sympathies and attention are with those who commit the former, Boorman sticks steadfastly to Walker and his almost surreal commitment to getting his own back. The noise of his walking lingers long after the sound’s gone – it explodes with the breaking down of a door – and echoes throughout the rest of the film.

Boorman – in his first US film – was assured final cut as the result of some smart moves by Marvin and used it to create a film that even today, despite a number of mediocre retreads (Mel Gibson in Payback and more recently Jason Statham in Parker), feels brave and original. The main conceit is that having been betrayed in the first ten minutes by his best friend Mal (the always brilliant John Vernon) and his wife Lyn (Sharon Acker), shot and left for dead on Alcatraz, the rest of the movie swings between the straightforward revenge narrative of Walker’s stomping and the more dreamy, suggestive weirdness that the whole thing could be a feverish death dream.

Point Blank

The confusion of narrative time, the creative use of flashbacks and the occasional slow motion photography all threaten to allow the film to crumble, dissolve or fall apart (like the various bottles, doors, cars and human bodies), if it wasn’t for the drive of those stomping feet giving us direction. Revenge isn’t just a narrative direction; it’s the only thing keeping life and limb together. Without it Walker is already dead.

Walker has no scruples whatsoever in his pursuit of the money, which is the objective correlative of the life that is already gone. The fact that revenge is a hopeless attempt to return is a point made again and again. It’s not the righting of wrongs, it’s more a desperate dash at giving wrong meaning. This is proven by the dispatching of his main enemy Mal halfway through the film. Walker has so far caused the suicide of his former wife and destroyed various henchmen along the way.

Like a forebear from Elizabethan revenge tragedy, Walker seems to make his revenge exemplary, so a smug corrupt salesman is wrecked in the car he makes his living Point Blankselling; an attempted double-cross is triple crossed and Mal, the erstwhile friend who takes Walker’s wife, is undone by his own desire, dropping naked, ridiculous and sad, from his hotel onto the asphalt below. Walker is the ‘blank’ of the title, an emotional nullity who when directly questioned about his motivation – ‘You’re a very destructive man, Walker’ – can stumbling for a second, only insist on wanting his money.

Boorman’s perspective as an outsider gives the US a cold quality. We start from the only recently closed Alcatraz (three years prior to the filming of Point Blank). The stark reality of the prison is extended to the interstices and waste land of mainstream America; a land of car sales lots, strip clubs and hotels.

The crime syndicate is referred to throughout as the Organisation and this might be more than Hollywood’s historic coyness in naming the Mafia: the Organisation is very much a capitalist company, with a board of directors and young executives and offices in a respectable high rise. ‘We can’t just take money out of a hole in the wall,’ one such higher up complains to Walker. This is crime as corporate structure. Money stands as a marker for Walker’s vengeance, but it’s ultimately unsatisfactory and his revenge has done little more than facilitate another part of the Organisation. Nothing will change and Walker can fade into the darkness from which he came.

John Bleasdale

John Bleasdale

John Bleasdale is a writer based in Italy. He has published on films at various internet sites and his writing can be found, along with blog posts, collected at johnbleasdale.com.

He has also contributed chapters to the American Hollywood and American Independent volumes of the World Directory of Cinema: (Intellect), Terrence Malick: Films and Philosophy (Continuum) and World Film Locations: Venice (Intellect). You can also follow him on Twitter @drjonty.

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