Retrospective: Point Blank (1967)

Point Blank is one of my absolute favourite movies. It’s a film from the sixties which has been sadly forgotten because it’s known more as a film which has imitators and pastiches rather than for being a great movie in itself. The plot is simple. A petty criminal does a job on a deserted Alcatraz Island. His wife and best friend betray him and he is left to die but he manages to kill everyone in his way to get his small amount of money back.

From the introduction, the movie looks amazing. It begins with Lee Marvin just walking around and you can hear the syncopated rhythm of his shoes. It is the perfect introduction to a wonderful 60s Noir character who doesn’t say much but kills without mercy. It’s from an exceptionally interesting director John Boorman, who is probably better known for Deliverance and Zardos, with Point Blank being only his second movie. 

Lee Marvin plays Walker, who is basically a terminator and extremely brutal. His actions seem to have inspired other Noir movies such Sin City, Grosse Point Blank, LA Confidential and Drive. He is the archetype of the mysterious stranger with an inhuman compulsion. Most other movies would cast him as the antagonist but in this film he’s the protagonist and the camera always emphasises his size as he towers over other characters and silently menaces. None of the characters are particularly well drawn but Walker deals with them brutally while on the hunt for those who ‘did him wrong’. The film is engaging through its focus on how those characters react to this human train of destruction. We watch Walker (showing the neat linearity of the movie) impose himself on the ones who believe everything’s fine until he goes through them out of the window, the ones who beg, lie, bribe and those who fight back. He is too unsympathetic to be a protagonist you support and he is in some respects rather like Jack Carter (Get Carter) as an unsympathetic character who is absolutely brutal to those who have wronged him irrespective of who is in the way. 

There is a black comedic aspect to the film’s violence. Senior gangsters who act like they’re Bond villains are continually shocked at the extent that he will go through to get his revenge. His actions are bringing up bodies that they would rather not be reminded of, which give them the desire to throw each other in Walker’s way in an attempt to stop him while trying to figure out a more permanent solution. They do seem like really dreadful criminals.

As with most things from the time period, the style is really slick, as though the movie is itself a sharp grey suit which both indicates that the character means business and it also follows the style set from James Bond and the later Hitchcocks such as North By Northwest which emphasises single breasted suits as a uniform. It also features many different modernist houses which all look like they are inspired by North By Northwest, so they’re all quite Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired monstrosities. 

It is a simple movie with an unexpected brutality which in some ways stops it from becoming repetitive because its violence arrives in such unexpected ways. It builds an event up and then completely undermines it by having something unexpected occur or the event is over much quicker than you expect. It plays with your assumptions on how these movies are meant to work. The pacing is very cleverly done to ensure that the breaks between big events are significant enough to be noticeable but it doesn’t try to build a movie around them like Drive attempts. This is simply a really good Noir film with a very interesting main character who says the bare minimum and so little is known about him besides his apparent menace.

Review by Harry Riedl


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