It was going to be so simple, Walker (Lee Marvin) was told. He, Mal Reese (John Vernon) and Walker's wife Lynne (Sharon Acker) would go to the now closed island prison of Alcatraz and intercept the big money drop carried out by an organised crime syndicate, all they had to do was hit the henchmen over the head to knock them out and take the cash. But Reese almost immediately went too far, gunning the men down, grabbing the bag and then turning on Walker, shooting him in a cell and tearing up their plans in the most conclusive manner possible - or so he thought. Somehow, as he lies there on the stone floor, Walker is able to revive himself...
One of the films of the late nineteen-sixties to redefine images of violence in Hollywood cinema, and not only Hollywood, of course Point Blank starred Lee Marvin, perhaps the pre-eminent proponent of the art of brutality in his era. This was based on one of Donald Westlake's novels he penned under the name Richard Stark, mean, lean, pulpy books well known for their uncompromising nature, and a script was created as a vehicle for the star, the trouble being that Marvin didn't really like it. Thus when in London, he met with up and coming British talent John Boorman and they began to formulate ideas as to how they could spruce it up, and the director had been very impressed with the Nouvelle Vague out of France.
Which was really what was on offer here, a New Wave imitation in the form of a fast moving American thriller; The U.S.A. wasn't going to enjoy its own style of cinematic revolution until the next decade, but it was the influence of the French, and those like Boorman influenced in turn, which was a major factor in shaking up the status quo. So if you return to Point Blank and try to see it standing alone as its own entity, it's actually very difficult, as it truly wore its debts on its sleeve. What you can do is concentrate on something those European movies often didn't have, and that was an actor of the primeval power of Lee Marvin, here in possibly his finest role as an unstoppable force of vengeance, but one with an almost childish, little boy lost sense of injustice: those bad men took his money, and now he wants his fair share.
Whether what we see playing out for ninety minutes is genuinely happening or if Walker was murdered in that cell is a conundrum which has taxed movie buffs ever since this film's release, but it's a mark of the fascination it engenders that either could be true and it harms the plot not one iota. As Walker smashes his way through a selection of inferior people who have nothing like his bizarre integrity, we can stand back and watch him bring mayhem to a world of crime which has become respectable and corporate. The gangsters are no longer double-crossing hoodlums, though they do not balk at killing their rivals or those who become a problem, but businessmen who have invested their ill-gotten gains in high rise apartments, fancy cars and the women such trappings of wealth attract. Just like those Westerns where the gunfighter finds himself out of step with the modern world, Walker sticks out like a sore thumb.
Boorman and his editor Henry Berman, whose work on Grand Prix was the main indication before this of skills he was rarely called on to provide, fill the running time with flashbacks and deliberately confusing time frames and narrative quirks, crafting a mood that borders on the surreal, for all its satirical take on American business. Some characters seem to be sleepwalking through the story, while others are trying to make sense of a nightmare, all of which alienated more than one viewer down the years as this film was not prepared to play by the rules. One scene will be savagely violent, as Walker's brawl in the nightclub proves (where he punches one assailant in the bollocks, a movie first), while another will be weirdly funny, in a fish out of water fashion except that fish is a killer shark. In fact, Walker kills accidentally, he may be ferocious but only in pursuit of that money; not even Angie Dickinson at her most alluring as his sister-in-law can loosen him up, probably because she is as freaked out as everyone else. Not all important films are as enjoyable as this one. Music by Johnny Mandel.
British director whose work can be insufferably pretentious or completely inspired, sometimes in the space of a single film. He began his career with the BBC, before directing Dave Clark Five vehicle Catch Us If You Can. Hollywood beckoned and his Lee Marvin movies Point Blank and Hell in the Pacific won him admirers.