Weekend Film Recommendation: Point Blank

John Boorman’s Point Blank melds 1960s film experimentalism with the gangster film with unforgettable effect

lee-marvin-in-point-blank22 The above is one of the many memorable shots (accompanied by even more memorable sound!) in this week’s film recommendation, Director John Boorman’s outstanding 1967 US debut film: Point Blank. Point Blank weds the style and techniques of 1960s experimentalism with the traditional gangster/crime melodrama, with unique and unforgettable results.

The film begins with a literal bang, pulling us into a world of brutality and revenge. And then a strange, almost unbelievable story begins as a criminal named Walker who by all rights should be dead (Lee Marvin, in a powerhouse performance) somehow overcomes his fate and launches a ferocious, violence-filled pursuit of former navy buddy Mal Reese (John Vernon, in a strong cinema debut) and his own faithless wife (Sharon Acker, also very good) who betrayed him during a stick-up. He is aided by the mysterious Mr. Yost (Keenan Wynn) who appears at odd moments to provide advice, speaking to no one but Walker. Is Yost a ghost? Is what we are seeing all the fantasy of a dying man, or is it real? I’ve seen this film multiple times and I still can’t decide; I also can’t stop re-watching this magnetic piece of art.

1280_point-blankAdding to the atmosphere is radical use of color that recalls Red Desert. Watch carefully the progression of monochromatic scenes in this film (at left is one of the “yellow” scenes with screen siren Angie Dickinson playing Walker’s sister-in-law), which resonate with Walker’s emotions and the state of his quest. Distorted microphone effects, camera shots and the like are also used to tremendous effect, as are dreamlike scenes without any dialogue (or in one case, only half of a conversation, an amazing improvisation by Marvin). Phillip Lathrop contributes many moody, lonely camera shots that further accentuate the film’s tone. The story, which was based on a Donald Westlake novel, also pushes the boundaries of the period, with graphic violence and the strong suggestion of a sexual link between the two male leads.

The studio executives hated the movie that their young director had created, but Lee Marvin used his enormous star power to ram it down their throats as is. There was clearly more to the man than his drunken brawler image. I can’t say enough good things about what he and Boorman created…don’t miss this one, and have fun analyzing it afterwards!

p.s. Recent interview with Boorman about his career available here.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

12 thoughts on “Weekend Film Recommendation: Point Blank”

  1. Lee Marvin was that rarity, a tough guy star who really was a tough guy: he got a Purple Heart fighting as a Marine on Saipan in WWII. I love his OTT performance in Cat Ballou.

  2. That is a brilliant movie, and so modern in feel.
    Kind of astounding that it’s by the creator of Zardoz. (And Deliverance, and Excalibur…)

  3. Keith – Thanks for the tip. I was astounded to find that PB is available for rent on AppleTV. Going to watch it when I get home. Nice to have something to look forward to after work on a Monday.

    1. @Kurzleg: Please post your reaction. I re-watched it recently (I have a DVD with commentary by Boorman) and was blown away again.

      1. Watched it last night, and boy, is there a lot to take in. At the start, the visuals and audio of Marvin walking down the hallway (LAX?) do a tremendous job of building up tension, almost like a giant wave building to a crest that crashes down for the remainder of the film. I really liked the economy of the script too. I can’t think of any wasted scenes. I was almost certain Wynn’s character was real until the final rising crane shot. I definitely want to see it again and look for small things I missed.

        1. I consider that the “tramping of doom” scene and then of course it ends with that dreamlike shooting of the bed, enough to keep a Freudian thinking for a week.

          Glad you appreciated the film, thanks for posting your reaction.

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