John Boorman1961-1970Film NoirThrillerUSA

John Boorman – Point Blank (1967)

Point Blank is a 1967 American crime film directed by John Boorman, starring Lee Marvin and featuring Angie Dickinson, adapted from the crime noir pulp novel The Hunter by Donald E. Westlake, writing as Richard Stark. Boorman directed the film at Marvin’s request and Marvin played a central role in the film’s development and staging. The film was not a box office success in 1967 but has since gone on to become a cult classic, eliciting praise from such critics as film historian David Thomson.

Director John Boorman met Lee Marvin while on the set of The Dirty Dozen in London. Boorman and Marvin talked about a script based on the book The Hunter. Both hated the script but loved the main character of Walker. When they agreed to work on the film, Marvin threw the script out the window. Marvin called up a meeting with the head of the studio, the producers, his agent and Boorman. Boorman recalls, “[Marvin] said, ‘I have script approval?’ They said ‘yes’. ‘And I have approval of principal cast?’. ‘Yes’. He said, ‘I defer all those approvals to John [Boorman].’ And he walked out. So on my very first film in Hollywood, I had final cut and I made use of it.”

The unusual structure of the film was due in part to the original script and developments during the course of shooting the film. Rehearsals took place at Marvin’s house in Los Angeles. On the rehearsal day in which Marvin asked Sharon Acker what happened to the money, Marvin had lines which he did not speak and forced Acker to continue the conversation on her own. “I saw right away he was right,” replied Boorman, “Lee never made suggestions. He would just show you.” So Boorman changed the lines in the script so that Acker would essentially ask and answer Marvin’s questions, and the result is in the finished film. “It made a conventional scene something more,” added Boorman.

This was the first film ever to shoot at Alcatraz, the infamous prison which had been shut down since 1963, only three years before the production. Two weeks in the abandoned prison facility required the services of 125 crew members. While Marvin and Wynn enjoyed shooting on location, Wynn was concerned about the weather and the need to loop half the dialogue. During the shoot, Angie Dickinson and Sharon Acker modeled contemporary fashions for a Life magazine exclusive against the backdrop of the prison. Acker was accidentally hurt by the blanks that Vernon used to shoot at Marvin early in the film.

Director Boorman chose locations that were “stark.” For example, the airplane terminal walkway that Marvin walked down originally had flower pots lining the walls. Boorman had the pots taken out to “make it all bare.”

After Boorman showed the finished cut to executives, they were “very perplexed and mumbling about reshoots”. Margaret Booth, a legendarily traditional-minded supervising editor on the picture, told Boorman as the execs filed out, “You touch one frame of this film over my dead body!”

In her 1967 New Yorker review of Bonnie and Clyde, Pauline Kael wrote: “A brutal new melodrama is called Point Blank, and it is.” Kael later called the film “intermittently dazzling”. Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and said “as suspense thrillers go Point Blank is pretty good.” Leonard Maltin gave the film three and a half stars: “Taut thriller, ignored in 1967, but now regarded as a top film of the decade.”

Slant Magazine reviewer Nick Schager notes in a 2003 review: “What makes Point Blank so extraordinary, however, is not its departures from genre conventions, but Boorman’s virtuoso use of such unconventional avant-garde stylistics to saturate the proceedings with a classical noir mood of existential torpor and romanticized fatalism.”

The film has a 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Viewers and critics have often questioned whether or not the film is really a dream that Walker has after he is shot in the very beginning. Director Boorman claims to not have an opinion on the matter. “What it is is what you see,” responded Boorman. Steven Soderbergh has described Point Blank as “memory film” for Marvin. Boorman believes the film is about Lee Marvin’s brutalizing experiences in World War II, which dehumanized him and left him desperately searching for his humanity.

Point Blank combines elements of film noir with stylistic touches of the European nouvelle vague. The film features a fractured time-line, disconcerting narrative rhythms (long slow passages contrasted with sudden outbursts of violence) and a carefully calculated use of film space (stylized compositions of concrete riverbeds, sweeping bridges, empty prison cells). Boorman credits Marvin with coming up with a lot of the visual metaphors in the film. Boorman said that as the film progressed, scenes in the film would be filmed monochromatically around one particular color (the chilly blues and grays of Acker’s apartment, Dickinson’s butter yellow bathrobe, the startling red wall in Vernon’s penthouse) to give the proceedings a “sort of unreality”.

To establish Walker’s mythic stature, Soderbergh noted in the commentary that the film cuts from a shot of Walker swimming from Alcatraz to a shot of him on a ferry overlooking the same island while a woman on the loudspeaker describes the impossibility of leaving the island. Soderbergh said that this contrast of the character’s ease of escape with the loudspeaker’s monologue makes the Walker character “mythic immediately.”

Point Blank is hailed in the book 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die as “The perfect thriller in both form and vision.” Film historian David Thomson calls the film a masterpiece. Thomson adds, “[…] this is not just a cool, violent pursuit film, it is a wistful dream and one of the great reflections on how movies are fantasies that we are reaching out for all the time—it’s singin’ in the rain again, the white lie that erases night.” Director Steven Soderbergh has said that he used stylistic touches from Point Blank many times in his filmmaking career.

The Hunter was also the basis for Brian Helgeland’s Payback (1999), starring Mel Gibson. Director Boorman has joked that Payback was so bad that Mel Gibson must have taken the original script for Point Blank that Boorman and Marvin had thrown out.

On March 29, 1968, Point Blank was screened at Cinelândia movie theaters in order to protest the murder of 18-year-old high school student Edson Luís de Lima Souto by the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro. Souto was shot at point-blank range. Phrases such as “Do bullets kill hunger?”, “Old people in power, young people in coffin”, and “They killed a student… what if it was your son?” were written by protesters in the movie posters. The aftermath of Souto’s death was one of the first major public protests against the Brazilian military government.

Point Blank.mkv

Container: Matroska
Runtime: 1h 31mn
Size: 1.54 GiB
Codec: x264
Resolution: 1024x440 
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Frame rate: 23.976 fps
Bit rate: 1 999 Kbps
BPP: 0.185
#1: English 1.0ch AC-3 @ 192 Kbps
#2: English 1.0ch AC-3 @ 192 Kbps (commentary)

Language(s):English, Audio Comm
Subtitles:English French Spanish German Japanese


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