"Somebody's Got To Pay": POINT BLANK (1967)

This amazing, complex, sexy, cool, smoldering, passionate crime film marks the equally cool and amazing Lee Marvin’s first turn as a big star (after his Oscar for CAT BALLOU in 1966, he was granted virtually total control over this production), as well as British director extraordinaire John Boorman’s (DELIVERANCE, EXCALIBUR, ZARDOZ) first film in the U.S.  And - as if I haven’t already said as much - it’s the most amazing film Marvin ever made.
It was made right in the transition period between Classical and “New” Hollywood, and it has a lot in common stylistically with another very complex and psychologically oriented movie made in the same year by another Brit: John Schlesinger’s MIDNIGHT COWBOY.  What makes this time so special is that it represents a time when the past was linked to the present, and was not the radical break it’s often depicted as.  In fact, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Elia Kazan and Nicholas Ray had begun this project of slowly changing the language and style of film over a decade before POINT BLANK, with styles and subjects that were quite striking and provocative for their time, but which remained rooted firmly in the practical filmmaking of the Classical period.
What I intend to make note of here is that actors like Marvin, and directors like Boorman, continued to make New Hollywood’s realism and grittiness more possible by preparing audiences with improvements and slight variations on the language that their predecessors had already begun.  Films like POINT BLANK, THE DIRTY DOZEN, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, and THE GRADUATE paved the way for the rise of directors like Scorsese, Ashby, Coppola, Spielberg and many others who were to irrevocably change American cinema forever, bringing it kicking and screaming into its modern incarnation.

Getting back to the film, POINT BLANK features Lee Marvin as master criminal Walker as he traces the steps through a seedy organization to get the $93,000 owed him by his partner after a double-cross that left him for dead.  Efficiently and brutally, Walker makes his way to the top, using any and every trick he knows, and never giving a damn.  His goal is simple, and it doesn’t matter who he uses or kills to achieve it.  It’s Lee’s natural demeanor and devil-may-care attitude, as well as his deadly serious performance, that makes the character and the film what it is.  It’s a perfect marriage of star and vehicle.
The first scene introduces us in a flashback sequence to the events that Walker is recalling, which serves to attach the audience to his motive, and to his interpretation of what happened to him and why he’s been left for dead.  It’s an articulate (filmically speaking) sequence that gives us a glimpse into the head of the character that no one else gets.  To everyone in the film, he’s just a stubborn old man who’s going through all this for nothing, and who will most likely die because of it.  Really, he’s doing it because he’s a professional, and he doesn’t compromise his principles and the outcome of the job he took, which was to obtain half of the score.  And yeah, it may also be that he’s stubborn.

During one of many confrontations about the cash owed to him, Walker is asked by Brewster what he really wants.  "I...I really want my money," he answers.  What's interesting here is the slight hesitation in getting what he "really" wants out of his mouth.  The film has shown us that he's interested in a lot of things, namely having his comfortable life with a wife he undoubtedly loved and was hurt by.  Other than small instances like this, he never shows any emotion about it.  It's the question that causes him to stop just for a moment and really consider what it is he wants...and then he knows it's impossible and goes right back to the money.

In one of the film’s more memorable scenes, Marvin has brought his (now dead) wife’s sister with him to wait on and confront Brewster, one of the top bosses about getting his money in the guy’s own house.  The film is filled with all sorts of sexual tension, particularly between his wife, who betrayed him at the film’s beginning, and Angie Dickinson's Chris (the sister).  It’s a relationship of convenience as much as anything else, but Walker finally sends her over the edge in this scene, and she smacks him repeatedly, across the face, beating his chest and, frankly, just hitting the shit out of him until she just gives up.  Marvin makes no show of emotion.  He lets her hit him, and then just goes on doing what he’s there to do.  That’s the movie, and the character right there, all summed up in his resolution to get what he wants no matter what, and to ignore everyone he has to go through to get it.
I guess what makes me endlessly fascinated with POINT BLANK is its singularity as a psychological crime film, which has been emulated and toyed with ever since as a genre unto itself.  And that it came well before Robert Altman’s slightly post-modern interpretation of Philip Marlowe and Noir in THE LONG GOODBYE.  It takes Marvin’s Walker and puts him at the center of everything; the audience identifies with him at every turn because they know something about him and his relationships that no one else in the movie does - that they hurt him and that he’s really quite wounded on the inside.  But he never shows it.  To do so would compromise his mission.  That’s something Walker doesn’t do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent review, really excellent. Loved the part about us identifying with his inner woundedness.