Point Blank (1967) d. John Boorman

, 2013-05-07

In oneiric opening scenes shown in fragmented sequence, we become acquainted with Walker, a man wronged and left for dead on Alcatraz Island after a heist-gone-awry. His share was supposed to be $93,000 but old pal Mal Reese took it all to pay off the considerable debt he owes to shady crime syndicate the Organization, as well as Walker's wife Lynn. But now after somehow escaping the inescapable fortress, the big guy's out on the warpath. Only it's not for revenge, he "just really want[s] his money". And with a little help from a seemingly all-knowing man known only as Yost, he sets about rattling the cage of the criminal overworld for his meagre sum.I say overworld because in Great Society era California, the criminals wear suits and ties, occupy penthouse suites and corporate boardrooms. There is no mob boss at the top of it all, just endless layers of bureaucracy. The women no longer suggest sexuality with arched eyebrows and make-up but rather flaunt it in miniskirts and revealing dresses. The smoke-filled bars of yesteryear are now desegregated jazz clubs, havens for downtown businessmen hungry for a taste of the counter-culture. Many consider the film to be the first in this neo-noir style, where the old rules were revised for the post-Hays code generation.However, the rules were not only being rewritten for Hollywood but for all of America. Never had the country suffered so woefully from this crippling uncertainty regarding its continued existence since the Civil War one hundred years earlier. The convertibility of the dollar to gold under the Bretton Woods system was strained by the undeclared Vietnam War and LBJ's domestic programs. Martin Luther King's warning that "a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom" went unheeded, as evidenced by the spiritually dead character of Walker.For actor Lee Marvin, the role was very much a reflection on his dehumanizing experience of the Pacific theater in World War Two, which director John Boorman and Marvin would return to again one year later in Hell in the Pacific. However, Point Blank is commonly considered to be a ghost story of sorts, with Walker haunting his enemies in a seemingly unreal afterlife. He never kills his victims or f*cks his women, contrary to the tagline's promise. Reese is spooked out onto the balcony of his penthouse suite where he falls to his death and Carter stumbles out onto the LA river culvert where a sniper mistakes him for our antihero. The only time he fires his gun is when pumping hot lead into the sheets of his ex-wife's Lynne's bed, spending his sexual energy in the masturbatory search for Reese. Boorman admits to letting Marvin effectively un-write his only scene of dialogue with Sharon Acker's Lynn wherein he originally interrogated her, preferring instead to sit in stony silence while she guiltily spills forth the beans on her relationship with Reese before OD'ing on pills without any provocation on Walker's behalf. Later, when his ex-sister-in-law Chris (played by Angie Dickinson) beats his chest with futility he stands stoically, not taking it –just not responding, and then slides into his armchair where he watches TV. After 'killing' his way up the seemingly never-ending Organization hierarchy, he is once again tipped off by that ubiquitous Yost (portrayed eerily by Keenan Wynn). This time it leads him to Brewster, the man below Fairfax who can get Walker his $93K. So he returns to Alcatraz for closure, watching over Brewster who brings a briefcase in which he claims is the money. Walker remains in the shadows when Brewster is shot by a sniper. Yost then emerges from the shadows for a dying Brewster to call him out as Fairfax but Walker still doesn't budge. Finally the sniper descends from his shadow-enshrouded position and Yost/Fairfax thanks Walker for eliminating his overly ambitious underlings and offers him an enforcer job. Walker heeds not the offer and recedes into the shadows…By the end, we know not whether the Organization made good on its promise and paid. It seems it was the ultimate MacGuffin, carrying the story along to the very end. Viewing the film through the eidolonian prism, it could be said that the apparition of Walker is fading, losing its effect and ability to inspire fear and that is perhaps why he never descends to claim his meagre bounty. His fading away would appear to infer the expiration of his being. The revenant Walker's objective was merely to ascertain whether honour still existed among thieves. It didn't, and neither did their recognition that they were.