I watched the 1967 film noir, Point Blank the other night. Believe it or not, I had never seen this film, although I’d always wanted to. It has rarely been on television and no one I know owns a copy of it. Frankly, it never occurred to me to buy it, since I’d never seen it.
But as I’m sure you know, the buzz on it has been tremendous for about 25 years now, since it was “rediscovered” and labeled one of the best movies of the 1960s, maybe even of all time. And with good reason. It stars Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson, along with a sturdy supporting cast of well-known character actors. Marvin is without question one of the most watchable actors ever to walk onto the silver screen. With a role like this one, a revenge-seeking criminal whose partners have betrayed him, robbed him, and left him for dead, I’m thinking “No wonder everyone loves this film. It has everything going for it!”
I didn’t like it.
I didn’t hate it. I just didn’t like it is all.
For me the film had the look of a 1960s TV show. It was visually flat, lifeless and never seemed like anything more than a made-for-TV movie. Of course, the sex and violence elevated it out of the TV realm, but visually, it didn’t do it for me. The whole thing just lay there on the screen, pale and cold. Certain scenes filmed in the dark looked okay–the finale, for instance–but the daylight scenes were straight out of late ’60s network television, complete with all the standard, cliché LA locations.
I knew there would be a problem as soon as I saw the opening credits. They were done in quick, sharp cuts, a la TV, as opposed to the softer, more subtle dissolves traditionally found in films. The sets were godawful and the harsh lighting didn’t do anyone any favors. The closeup of the broken toiletry bottles and their swirling fluids is a perfect example of ’60s excess. By 1970, all that stuff was passé.
Then there’s the story.
I know, I know, it’s great. But think about this. The story couldn’t’ve taken place at all if John Vernon had killed Lee Marvin, which he fully intended to do, instead of shooting him, looking at him, and running away. You remember the scene, right? There was no one around to hear the shots, Marvin was on the floor with two in him already. What’s one or two more? Preferably in the head. At least you’ll know he’s dead, which any self-respecting double-crosser will go out of his way to do.
Angie Dickinson was completely wasted yet again, as she was in so many of those 1960s movies. The scene where she slapped Marvin a few times was good, but that was about it. I never bought into her as a character. I could see her “acting” the whole time.
I lay most of this muckery at the feet of the director, John Boorman. Given the story, this film should have overflowed with grit, but it comes off as remarkably sanitized. But wait, you say, Boorman’s the guy who directed Deliverance. And The Tailor Of Panama. Surely he knows what he’s doing. Surely he’s great!
Well, yes, he did direct those outstanding films, along with a few others. But they came much later. Point Blank was really his first directorial effort (if you don’t count his UK film about the Dave Clark Five). He was feeling his way around, and let’s face it, he really didn’t know what he was doing. He was handed a terrific story with a great cast and a Hollywood budget, but he came up short.
The sad fact is, without Marvin’s compelling screen presence, this movie would be long forgotten and deservedly so.
All right, Mr DeMille, I’m ready for the tomatoes now.