The 60s was the era of hallucegenic drugs, marijuana, LSD, peyote, magic mushrooms. And leading the way were the folks in Hollywood.

A young British writer turned film director John Boorman encountered Lee Marvin, then at the height of his career (an Oscar for Cat Ballou, a huge box office hit with The Dirty Dozen), and they discussed a Richard Stark novel they thought would make a great film, The Hunter.

Three screenwriters later, Boorman began shooting in Los Angeles and locales in an around San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island. MGM opened the movie opened in September 1967, about five months after it completed shooting, and typically for an MGM movie, it came with more than a few bells and whistles.

For one thing, unlike most classic film noirs, it was not in black and white.  No, sir — only Panavision in Metrocolor would do (director of photography is Philip Lathrop).

Then there is a tricky plot leading fim noir scholar Alain Silver to remark that ‘Point Blank’ is not a literal narrative and that the film is technically complex and plays with the ambiguities of time and space. That’s another way of saying the movie can be at times confusing.

Now the more traditional film noirs certainly can be devilishly tricky. (Can you honestly say with confidence that you’ve fully comprehended the plot of Howard Hawks’ 1946 classic The Big Sleep?)

Point Blank takes things further, a haunted dream-like film that draws upon the spatial and temporal experiments of modernist European art cinema, most particularly the work of (French director) Alain Resnais, writes critic Adrian Danks. 

Phew.  That’s a heavy load to heap upon what is seemingly a simple plot about a driven protagonist (named Walker) in pursuit of $93,000 that has been stolen from him. The portrayal has been cited repeatedly as evidence of Marvin’s inextinguishable greatness as a movie icon.

Not terribly long ago, the film journal Sight & Sound devoted a four-page spread to a British Point Blank revival.  As Boorman got to know Marvin, he learned of the damage done to the man by the war and his unresolved violence. In the Pacific, Marvin had done bad things that never left him, wrote critic-author David Thomson.

Boorman and Marvin developed a friendship that lasted until the actor’s death in 1987. Both worked together to convey the ruthlessness and inherent brutality of the actor’s Walker character in Point Blank, often drawing on the raw and dangerous (he was almost killed) World War II experiences he survived in combat.  The result is riveting.

Ironically, Marvin and Ronald Reagan costarred in director Don Siegel’s 1964 thriller The Killers, a tv update of the 1946 original that so memorably costarred Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner.

The remake was nowhere near as good as the original, but it’s still worth a look-see to observe two very different World War II vets in the same picture. Marvin portrays a hardened hit man while Reagan, amazingly, pulls off a performance as a very bad guy, a duplicitous criminal boss.

What distinguishes Point Blank from the pack is its bold approach to plot and character, perhaps reflecting the influences of the zeitgeist and the controlled and uncontrolled substances mentioned in our opening paragraph. The movie has been declared one of the seminal films of late 1960’s America.


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