11/3/08

The Lightning Bug's Lair Salute to Men of Action: Week 1: Point Blank (1967)

In Reservoir Dogs, after a heated standoff and more than a few cross words, Mr. Blonde smiles across at Mr. White and says, "I bet you're a big Lee Marvin fan aren't ya. Yeah me too. I love that guy." They share a little moment there as tempers defuse where they have something in common. They both love Lee Marvin. Who can blame them? Lee was the star of The Killers, The Dirty Dozen, and Delta Force. However in my mind the movie that Mr. White was thinking of is tonight's feature. In it Marvin plays the kind of forceful but cool character that defines him as an actor. Lee Marvin is a man who's been done wrong, and you don't want him to catch you...

Point Blank (1967) starring Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, and Carroll O'Connor. Directed by John Boorman.
Synopsis
Walker (Marvin) is a small time thug who agrees to assist his friend Mal Reese in a heist. Mal is deeply in debt to "The Organization" and needs the money to get in the clear. Walker reluctantly goes along with the plan, and his reluctance was for good reason. It did seem simple enough. Money gets dropped by helicopter on the abandoned grounds of Alcatraz. All they have to do is knock the goons who are picking up the cash on the noggin and be off with it. However Mal gets a little zealous and goes in guns blazing. Walker is livid. This is not how the plan was supposed to go down. While they wait for a boat to pick them up, Mal discovers that there's not enough money to pay Walker and "The Organization". Feeling like he has no other choice, Mal guns down Walker and leaves him for dead. As if that wasn't enough, Mal skips town with Walker's wife, Lynn, in a case of so much double crossing it requires a exponent.

A year later, Walker is back on the scene. Now grey haired and looking haggard he is out for his revenge. A mysterious source hips him to his wife's new address in L.A., and Walker is off. He surprises her with his return from the dead, and demands to know where Mal is. She spills what she knows, but it doesn't amount to much. She's been put up in the house by Mal, and he sends her $1000 bucks a month. Yet Mal is long gone. He's in good with "The Organization"
and living the high life. While Walker takes a nap Lynn who has buckled under the strain and guilt takes her own life. All Walker can do is wait around to see who shows up to drop off Lynn's stipend. When the runner shows up, Walker trashes the man until he gives up the name of car dealer Big John.

From Big John, he is lead to Lynn's sister Chris (Dickinson). She gets him close to Mal, but when he can't get satisfaction there, "The Organization" becomes his target. Walker starts moving up the ranks with gun in hand ready to blow away anyone or any speaker phone that might stand in his way. Walker only wants his money, and he's willing to do whatever it takes to get it.

Film Facts

--During a rehearsal for the film, Lee Marvin hit one of his co-stars so hard that it made the man cry.

--In one scene, Lee Marvin faked recoil when shooting his gun. However when they tried it later with live ammo there was no recoil. Marvin simply stated, "Fiction overtakes reailty."

--Point Blank has been remade two times. First as a Hong Kong film, Full Contact (1992) then with Mel Gibson in 1999 as Payback.

The Bug Speaks

Point Blank first came to my attention after I saw Payback. While I'm no Mel Gibson fan I thought it was a fine movie and starred one of my other favorite tough guys, James Coburn. I didn't really think about the film for until years after when I got into the works of Donald Westlake. Westlake is a master of the crime novel, more specifically the comic crime novel. I was fascinated by his Dortmunder novels. In each one hang-dogged criminal John Dortmunder and his gang of thieves set up some kind of operation which naturally goes wrong. John and his pals typically end a book unscathed, but no richer for their troubles. After reading all I could of those novels, I found out that Westlake had a pseudonym (actually he has up to seven of them), and that name was Richard Stark. When I finally got my hands on the first book in the Stark series, The Hunter, I was thrilled to find myself reading the source material from Payback. Although much had been changed, including the hero's name which was Parker, there was a trace of similarity. Once I finished, I knew I had to get my hands on Point Blank.

When I did, there was no question in my mind that I should have seen it long ago. After all, like Mr. White and Mr. Blonde, I also love Lee Marvin. More exciting than that though was to see director John Boorman's name attached. Boorman has helmed several great (and not so great) films that I love such as Zardoz, Excalibur, and The Tailor of Panama. So to see this extremely varied director attached to such a film was a great surprise. Apparently, Lee Marvin had hounded Boorman to make the film and like the character Walker was unrelenting until he got what he wanted. Boorman does an astounding job here. He brought in various techniques from Film Noir and the art house style of French directors like Goddard and Truffaut to create a world that is at once real and unreal. There is a sense that Walker may just be a figure of death literally walking the land. Several of his enemies either kill themselves of get into situations to be killed rather than deal with Walker.

All the directing in the world doesn't help if you don't have the right actors. Lee Marvin was pitch perfect. He played Walker as a man of few words and fewer expressions, but from what did come though you can easily know the character and feel for him. Walker becomes a force that is all too human, and yet he seems never human enough. I also must take a moment to talk about Angie Dickinson. As Chis, she turns is a performance that is vulnerable and strong. She is ready to help Walker do what he must, but she doesn't
understand why he must do it. Dickinson is an actress that I usually only enjoy if used sparingly, but she proved some dramatic chops in this film. Speaking of sparingly, one of the flaws in the movie is the lack of screen time for Carroll O'Connor. The future Archie Bunker is only on screen for perhaps fifteen minutes in the third act, but he comes right in, asserts his presence, and begins to chew the scenery to shreds. The other "Organization" cronies had seemed very flat, but O'Connor breathes life into what must have been a standard thug on the page and makes his screen time very memorable.

Overall, Point Blank is a film that works 80% of the time. For the most part the impressionistic directing works perfectly in the confines of this thriller, but there are parts that will leave the viewer scratching his head. The performances, while strong, have little to work off of as the supporting cast seems to be able to do little of it's titular duty. Marvin and Boorman both made greater films and lesser ones, but this combination of Director and Star is the stuff of which legends are made. So here at the LBL we salute you Lee Marvin as our first Man of Action.

Bug Rating

3 comments:

  1. Great choice, LB! Point Blank is a great film, although in the Boorman catalog I prefer Excalibur and Deliverance by a small margin.

    Now, here's my fun Point Blank-experience story:

    I saw the movie at a screening at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, conveniently located beside the La Brea Tar Pits), and a surprise guest-star showed up: Angie Dickinson. The presenter had no idea she was going to be there. She introduced the film, then sat down in her seat--right in front of me!. So I got to see Point Blank with Angie Dickinson watching Angie Dickinson. Wild man, wild.

    Afterwards, she answered some questions with the presenter, and lamented that she would never be that thin again. I shook her hand on the way out and told her that I loved the film.

    She pointed something out about the movie I never realized until then:

    Walker never kills anybody in the film. He makes killings possible, sure, puts people in situations (like Mal Reese) where death might happen, but he himself never directly kills anybody. Everyone in the audience took a collective breath as they realized she was absolutely right.

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  2. Awesome story Ryan. Really wish we got great stuff like that up on the moon, but no one wants to make the trip.

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  3. I will definitely have to check this one out - I had no idea that Gibson's Payback, nor Chow Yun Fat's Full Contact were both re-makes of this film. . .

    Thanks for sharing!

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