Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Point Blank (1967)

By Eric Jessen 8/24/09

Point Blank is a routine revenge film made dazzling and mesmerizing by hip sixties style and French New Wave cutting. We find Lee Marvin, his face pockmarked and battered as usual, dazed and confused, lying in a puddle of dirt on the floor of an Alcatraz prison cell with two bullet holes in his chest. The film is cut and slashed, we jump back to a heist gone wrong. Marvin as “Walker” and his friend Reese (John Verner) steal thousands in cash from a helicopter transporting Mob money to the prison, known as the “Alcatraz drop.” But Reese then betrays “Walker” taking his $93,000 share, making off with his wife (Sharon Acker) and leaving Walker for dead at the prison. The background turns to an Andy Warhol-esque swirl of oranges and reds, a color splurge (like a psychedelic finger painting). The opening credits roll. Then for the rest of the movie we follow “Walker” living out his vengeful fantasy, cutting back and forth, flashing back to the cell, back to the heist, back and back again, over and over. Walker hits San Francisco landmarks, patrols under the highway bridges of Los Angeles, and then at the end drifts into a dark shadowy oblivion back at Alcatraz.
Was it all Walker's last dream? Did Walker die at Alcatraz or did he recover? (At one point Angie Dickinson tells Marvin, “You died at Alcatraz.” ) One of the treasures of Point Blank is that these questions are left unanswered. Walker remains an enigma. He sifts through LA and San Francisco like a ghost. Lee Marvin's stiff cold demeanor and statuesque figure, his leathery skin blend in with the silver coated cities, the straight-cut fashion, satin faded pastel colors, (Dickinson's yellow striped dress) prim models, mini-skirts and leopard-skin sheets.
Walker tracks down Reese, his wife, and the mob men responsible for the “Alcatraz drop,” leaving mounds of corpses behind. But strangely enough, Walker never actually kills anyone. Sure, he roughs up a few body guards but only ever in self defense. He instead acts as a kind of evil spirit causing Reese, his wife, and the mob men to either kill each other or themselves.
Point Blank is an exhilarating if sometimes confusing ride of brute bullish action glossed with smooth, sleek style. But it is also a stifling of emotions (except for the brilliant scene where Dickinson slaps Marvin repeatedly to no avail). In this world of jazzy music and stoned faces, violence is inconsequential and sex is trendy.
A dream or not, Point Blank with Marvin's degenerate steamrolling, Dickinson's sexy fleshiness, John Boorman's New Wave showoffish directing, the pulp novel “The Hunter” turned pulp-action 60's vogue movie is a thrill.

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