Point Blank

Point Blank

The tough ad for Point Blank is misleading. An Andy Warhol silk-screen effect, Lee Marvin’s Planter’s Peanut head is seen alongside a gun barrel pointed at Times Square. This smashing blue-red-black-white ad suggests Action, in the Hammett-Chandler tough-cop tradition. You sort of expect to see Sleet Marvin and Angles Dickinson. They’re there in recognizable form only.

Whatever this fantasy is about, it is hardly about syndicate heist artists, nightclub owners, or a vengeful quest by a crook named Walker (Marvin) for the $93,000 he earned on the “Alcatraz drop.” The movie is really about a strangely unhealthy tactility. All physical matter seems to be coated: buildings are encased in grids and glass, rooms are lined with marble and drapes, girls are sculpted by body stockings, metallic or velour-like materials. A subtle pornography seems to be the point, but it is obtained by the camera slithering like an eel over statuesque women from ankle across thigh around hips to shoulder and down again. Repeatedly the camera moves back to beds, but not for the purposes of exposing flesh or physical contact. What are shown are vast expanses of wrinkled satin, deep dark shadows, glistening silvery highlights. The bodies are dead, under sedation, drugged, or being moved in slow-motion stylistic embraces. Thus, there’s a kind of decadent tremor within the image as though an unseen lecherous hand were palming, sliding over not quite human humans. It’s a great movie for being transfixed on small mountains which slowly become recognizable as an orange shoulder or a hip with a silvery mini-skirt.

In a sickening way, the human body is used as a material to wrinkle the surface of the screen. Usually the body is in zigzags, being flung, scraped over concrete, half buried under tire wheels, but it is always sort of cramped, unlikely, out of its owner’s control. At one point in the film, Marvin walks over to a public telescope at Pacific Palisades and starts squinting at a whitish skyscraper. It is one of the mildest scenes since the births of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, but after the endless out-of-control cramping of bodies, the serenity of the composition and the reasonable decorum make for a fine blissful moment.

The fact that Academy Award Lee Marvin is in the film hardly matters. His blocklike snoutlike nose makes itself felt, also the silvery snakelike hair that doesn’t look like hair, and the implacable, large-lipped mouth. Particular parts of his body and face are used like notes in a recurring musical score. His body stays stiff, vertical, very healthy and sunburned, but he is not actually in the movie. The syndicate is ripped apart by a psycheless professional who never moves except in a peculiar way—like a mechanical soldier quick-stepping through a Bauhaus corridor; a memorable mystical moment has him flying slow-motion through a bathroom door, his arm waving a blasting Colt 45.

Point Blank is an entertaining degenerate movie for its bit players: Michael Strong as a used used-car dealer, Lloyd Bochner and his sharkskin style of elegant menace. There are fine tour-de-force action compositions: a woman berserk with rage, beating a man from head to toe, a car salesman being tortured in his own used Cadillac as it is bounced between concrete pillars (a take-off on the Huston-Hawks gangster beating in which the victim is jabbed back and forth between two people in black).

However, with all its visual inventions and dreadfully fancy jazz, the movie really belongs to a composite image of look-alike actresses. As the dawn goes further down over the old notion of acting as a realistic portrayal, Angie Dickinson’s flamingolike angles can be seen one-half foot away from the despised Mal, all debauched beef-cake. They are seated on an orange chaise, like two book ends; his left hand reaches over two acres of sumptuous material and starts descending down the buttons of Angie’s mini-dress. It is a surprisingly delicate scene (considering the camera-made massiveness of the two figures), and it has almost nothing to do with the actors.

Excerpt from Farber's text titled Cartooned Hip Acting
December 1967

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