In this film’s most indelible combination of sound and image, the revenge-bent Lee Marvin (character name: Walker) is seen striding purposefully down a white hallway, each smack of his footsteps resonating like the sound of marching armies, or of a rifle being cocked. Director John Boorman cuts away to other images, across space and time, but still the cadence of that peculiar kind of madness — clop! clop! clop! — beats relentlessly on the soundtrack, giving Marvin’s rage ever-more-palpable form every time the camera alights on his steely set face. It’s scary and exciting at the same time, nicely establishing Marvin as the original Terminator. (This was remade, with some semblance of wit, as the Mel Gibson vehicle Payback, but Gibson is way too cuddly to properly inhabit the same role as Marvin.)
Back from the edge of death, Walker is pissed off at an old partner in crime who double-crossed him, took his wife, and left him to bleed to death in an Alcatraz prison cell. This turn of events is documented as the narrative flits back and forth between present day and snippets of flashback that depict Marvin’s tortured frame of mind. His singlemindedness (and dysfunctionality) stems from the way he forever relives those moments of violence and betrayal; his frustration is manifest in the fact that, no matter how many members of the shadowy “Organization” from which he hopes to extract the $93,000 owed to him die under bizarre circumstances, he’s no closer to the cash, or to a sense of psychological closure. By the end of the film, it’s clear that he’s managed to make absolutely no peace for himself — and the way Boorman continually returns to images of Marvin writhing around on the floor of that cell suggests the entire story may be the fever dream of a dying man. Best scene: A frustrated and distraught Angie Dickinson, playing Walker’s wife’s sister, pummels Marvin with her fists for what feels like an eternity, pounding at him like she’s trying to tenderize a piece of meat. When she’s done, he pauses for about half a beat, then turns and walks out of the room like nothing happened.
Point Blank is a dark and colorful film, shot in a widescreen style that reveals the huge urban spaces surrounding Marvin as he combs San Francisco and Los Angeles — from Alcatraz to the flood canals of Los Angeles — that seem to reveal a gaping emptiness inside his own head. Unfortunately, the only widescreen version is an out-of-print laserdisc that was originally issued by MGM in 1993. Root for it to show up in repertory at a theater near you; the letterboxed version that shows on Turner Classic Movies is adequate, but its many dimly lit scenes are riddled with video grain. The VHS tape, cropped on both sides, isn’t really an option. It’s a shame that a movie so memorable – and so obviously influential, with Lee Marvin’s antihero feeling every bit as contemporary as Terence Stamp’s roaring madman in the much more recent The Limey — would be so unavailable in the golden age of DVD.
Addendum: This was finally released on DVD by Warner Home Video in 2005. You can buy it from Amazon.com.