Point Blank

Angie Dickinson and Lee Marvin

Midway between Philip Marlowe and John Wick, Walker, the hero of 1967’s Point Blank is a stylish hero in a film so stylish and influential that its original impact can now only been guessed at, so relentlessly has it been plundered in the ensuing decades. Soderbergh is a fan, as is Tarantino, and so, of course, is Chad Stahelski (of John Wick fame). Mel Gibson and director Brian Helgeland remade it in 1999 as Payback (go for 2006’s Payback: Straight Up, the dirtier director’s cut, if you’re heading that way) but it’s Boorman’s framing and his use of locations, space and sound that have made Point Blank such a moodboard/sourcebook, as well as the cool ruthlessness of its main character, played by Lee Marvin at the top of his game.

We’re on the nursery slopes of the New Hollywood era, with Brit director John Boorman being handed the gig by a studio gambling that this was the way recapture the lost youth market and hoping that he was the answer to the ever increasing problem of bums on seats – or lack of them. A rave review by critic Pauline Kael of Boorman’s Catch Us If You Can (an ironic take on the 1960s counterculture featuring the pop group the Dave Clark Five) had brought Boorman to the attention of MGM and Lee Marvin, who had signed on to the movie on the understanding that he had total control over it. He gave all that control to the rookie Boorman. If you listen to the commentary track by Boorman and Steven Soderbergh it was clear that Marvin still had a great deal of artistic input, so he wasn’t giving it all away, just using his heft to get the suits off Boorman’s back. Maybe he should get a co-director credit.

Original poster
A poster from 1967 – originals cost plenty!



Anyhow, the plot. With John Wick simplicity, it’s about a guy (Marvin) who has been done out of his share of a heist (on Alcatraz, bizarrely) by fellow heister Reese (John Vernon). Shot and left for dead, he’s also lost his woman (Sharon Acker) to Reese into the bargain.

Except Walker isn’t dead. And for the rest of the film it’s a case of him working his way up up a pyramid of vengeance like a destroying angel, hooking up with his girl’s sister, Chris (Angie Dickinson), along the way, trying to find the Mr Big of the organisation – always referred to as The Organization. All Walker wants is his $93,000, not a cent more or less.

There is a school of thought that insists, in Sixth Sense style, that Walker is actually dead. The film can definitely be watched that way, if a further layer of metaphysicality is what you’re after. Boorman’s use of wide spaces, empty locations, sound overlapping from one scene into another and the occasional, and dramatically massive, use of silence makes it a school of thought it’s easy to sign up to. And notice Keenan Wyn as a guy called Yost. He introduces himself as a cop of some sort, but behaves throughout – appearing and disappearing at random – like a guardian angel.

The tug isn’t all in the one direction, which is what makes this film open to interpretation. Johnny Mandel’s soundtrack says neo-noir, for example, while Philip Lathrop’s bright, sharp cinematography says not – he’s shooting Point Blank the same way he did The Pink Panther. The pristine rinky-dink style.

Being 1967, there’s some free love – that three-way between Walker, Vernon and Lynne (Acker) and Boorman hints also at psychedelics in his use of colours here and there – a shattered mess of various bathroom lotions and potions at one point being almost like a hippie oil wheel.

Colour coding is strong throughout, with the palette using signal yellows early on, moving through that end of the spectrum and ending up with vivid reds, flashing danger, as the finale comes over the horizon.

Some things are disappointing now, and possibly always were. Though Angie Dickinson is everything she should be as the sister of Lynne, the men Walker uses Lynne to gain access to all cluster at the rentavillain end of the bad-guy spectrum. Maybe there are just too many of them. Lee Marvin, according to the IMDb trivia (not always the most reliable of sources) was most concerned with John Vernon as Reese, who he thought wasn’t up to going mano a mano with him. In fact he’s pretty good, a cut-price Robert Shaw type, for sure, but he does it well. Maybe Marvin was worried about Vernon being a TV actor. Different times.



Point Blank – Watch it/buy it at Amazon



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© Steve Morrissey 2022









The General

Brendan Gleeson plays Martin Cahill in The General

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

12 February

 

 

Art thieves steal Munch’s The Scream, 1994

On this day in 1994, thieves broke into the National Gallery, Oslo, and stole the Edvard Munch painting The Scream. It is actually one of a number of so-named works of art, there being four different Screams in a variety of media, plus a number of lithographic prints struck by Munch himself. The one stolen on the night in question was in tempera on cardboard and was in a less secure part of the gallery – it had been moved as part of celebrations held to mark the opening of the winter Olympics in Lillehammer, which had been taking place on the second floor. The thieves left a note: “thanks for the poor security” and later followed up with a ransom demand of $1 million. The painting was recovered in May after a joint operation by Norwegian Police, the British police’s SO10 unit and the Getty Museum.

 

 

 

The General (1998, dir: John Boorman)

Cinema loves a gentleman rogue, and in the shape of charmer Martin Cahill that’s exactly what we have here. Add to that basic formula the fact that the career criminal is a loquacious Irishman, played here by Brendan Gleeson, and the combination is doubly potent. Shooting in black and white for reasons of cost but also because there’s enough colour in the character to fill the frame, director and writer John Boorman tells the story of the professional thief who operated in Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s, tantalising the police, irritating the IRA, beguiling with one hand while he pilfered with the other. Boorman had himself been burgled by Cahill, and includes the heist here (it’s the one where Cahill steals a gold record off a wall – the one Boorman had won for the soundtrack of Deliverance). And it can’t escape notice that Boorman, like so many, seems enthralled by a man who could be brutal, but was so intelligent, devious and had such a sense of personal integrity that he stirred up protective feelings even in those he’d harmed. Enter Jon Voight, as copper Ned Kenny, the sheriff of Nottingham to Cahill’s Robin Hood, a hard-bitten professional cop who’s seen it all, but not the way Cahill does it (one alibi includes Cahill actually being in the company of the cop when he was meant to have been pulling a bank job). Enter also the two sisters (Maria Doyle and Angeline Ball) Cahill shares his house with, married to one, sleeping with the other. It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to pull that off, as does the theft of an Old Master which Boorman shows us in full detail. Cahill eventually ran foul of the IRA, who couldn’t abide that he operated outside their jurisdiction, and it is that ugly denouement that brings Boorman’s film to an end. The General won Boorman a best director award at Cannes, but this vastly entertaining film remains oddly overlooked, doubtless because some people are resistant to films in black and white. If that sounds like you and you must have colour, check out Ordinary Decent Criminal, a film from 2000 about Cahill’s escapades which stars Kevin Spacey as another, slightly more fictionalised, version of the man himself. Just don’t expect it to be as funny or as fleet of foot.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Boorman won best director at Cannes
  • Boorman’s immersive screenplay makes you work out things for yourself
  • A mighty Brendan Gleeson performance
  • DP Seamus Deasy’s rich monochrome cinematography

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

The General – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

The Tailor of Panama

Pierce Brosnan and Jamie Lee Curtis in The Tailor of Panama

 

 

 

Between Bond movies The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day, busy Pierce Brosnan managed to fit in two other projects. One of them was this adaptation of a John Le Carre story about a downmarket spy (Brosnan) in Central America who uses a sweatily nervous tailor (the unimpeachable Geoffrey Rush) to gain access to the local generals, his object: to sell them all manner of dodgy information designed to destabilise the country. It may say Le Carre on the tin but there’s the definite feeling we’re in Graham Greene country here, the atmopshere of mosquito netting, insanitary plumbing and lousy tea all being typical Greene touches. Adding suitably weird supporting performances are Harold Pinter as Rush’s dear old Jewish dad and Brendan Gleason as a Panamanian freedom fighter. These are both somewhat left-field bits of casting but they’re typical of the nutty casualness that pervades the whole film. Look at Jamie Lee Curtis – dragged in as love interest and then almost dismissively underused. Not to mention Brosnan, who is pretty much going at it like OO3.5. It’s all about deception, of course, and director John Boorman lays on the deliberate double-bluffs, intrigueful atmosphere and even conversations with dead people to confuse the viewer into not knowing what’s what, in an attempt to give us some idea of what Brosnan is doing to the generalissimos. Definitely one for people who enjoy being toyed with. And yes, it was shot in Panama.

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

The Tailor of Panama – at Amazon