Point Blank (John Boorman, 1967)

“You’re a very bad man, Walker, a very destructive man! Why do you run around doing things like this?”

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Shot and left for dead by a friend and partner in crime (John Vernon), gangster Lee Marvin, as Walker, returns from the brink of death (or is all a fantasy at the point of dying?) seeking revenge against those who betrayed him. Vernon stole his money and his wife. He wants his money back. For clues Walker contacts his wife’s sister, played by Angie Dickenson, who tells him, “You’ll ask him for the money, he’ll say no, and you’ll kill him”, which just about sums up the simple motivation driving Walker, a killing machine every bit as single-minded and relentless as Schwarzenegger’s terminator, destroying anything that gets in his way, not just people but also inanimate objects: he shoots a bed, demolishes a car, and rips a phone out its wall socket!

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Boorman intensifies Walker’s unrelenting pursuit through virtuoso camerawork, elliptical editing, and an imaginative sound design. One of the film’s memorable scenes begins by showing Walker purposefully walking down a long corridor, his footsteps loudly pronounced on the soundtrack. He has found out where his wife is and he’s coming after her. Boorman cuts back and forth between the wife obliviously going about her business and Walker relentlessly heading to where she lives, and although we see Walker driving a car at different points on his journey, the sound of his disembodied footsteps continues to echo on the soundtrack as the crosscutting continues, growing louder and louder, faster and faster as Walker gets closer and closer to his ultimate destination, until finally the footsteps and the man reunite and he busts through her front door. He’s not called Walker for nothing!

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It’s an incredible sequence which establishes Marvin as an unstoppable force. But he’s also an immovable object: in an equally unforgettable scene, Dickinson futilely pounds on his chest for a good minute trying to break through his implacable exterior before she collapses at his feet, spent and exhausted. But even this unstoppable force/immovable object is no match for modern day organized crime. Marvin is an old-fashioned criminal with elemental motives and simple methods: he defenestrates Vernon when the poor sap can’t come up with his stolen cash. But the world he inhabits is more complex now. After dispensing with Vernon, Marvin expects to have a face-to-face meeting with the boss of The Organization to get his cash back – only to be stymied by a faceless syndicate which conducts business with plastic rather than paper currency. He’s not allowed to see the boss, and he won’t get his cash back because they don’t have any. The rules of the game have changed, rendering Walker an anachronism, his quest futile.

2 Responses to “Point Blank (John Boorman, 1967)”

  1. Nice review of a movie I liked a lot when it came out. The remake with Mel Gibson isn’t bad either, but the tone isn’t the same.

    I don’t know why the movie changed “Parker” to “Walker,” but as you may know, this is the first of Donald Westlake’s Parker books (writing under the name Richard Stark).

    I totally didn’t remember that he never gets his money back. He tends to get into fixes like this in every book, but he usually scores in the end.

    There’s a graphic novel of Point Blank as well, that came out in 2009.

  2. Hey, thanks. I’m aware of the book but I haven’t read it (nor have I seen Payback), so I can’t say how faithful an adaptation Point Blank is. As for the name change, I’m not sure but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was due to that scene I mentioned involving Marvin’s disembodied footsteps echoing on the soundtrack.

    Mat