Remakes have always been a big source of discussion here at The Back Row and I’ve always had this theory that the reason Hollywood can get away with doing so many remakes these days is because so many people from today’s generation have never even heard of the original films they’re based on. Mel Gibson’s film, Payback, was a hugely popular crime thriller when it originally came out, but I’m willing to wager that the majority of people who saw it didn’t even know it was a remake. The original source for Payback was a hard-boiled crime novel written by Donald E. Westlake named The Hunter, which was published in 1963 and adapted four years later by renowned British director John Boorman into a film called Point Blank. Despite the presence of the legendary Lee Marvin in the lead role, it was kinda ignored when it was originally released and has only started be recognized as an influential classic as the years have passed by. Despite the fact that it was remade in 1999, the film never even secured a release on DVD until 2005. Point Blank has started to garner the respect it deserves in many circles, but sadly, the film is nowhere near as well-known as it should be.
If you’ve seen Payback, you’ll probably know a lot of the particulars of this story. Lee Marvin plays a gangster named Walker (who’s far too badass to have a first name!) and, as the film opens, he’s lying in a cell in Alcatraz. He was enlisted by his friend Mal Reese (John Vernon) to steal a large amount of money from a courier doing a transaction on Alcatraz island, but after they successfully complete the job, Reese and Walker’s wife, Lynne (Sharon Acker) double-cross him by shooting him and leaving hm for dead in the cell. Of course, Walker winds up surviving and decides to go on a vengeful request to recover the money. He doesn’t want all the money, of course, just the $93,000 that was owed to him. Since Reese has used the money to pay off a debt he had with a crime syndicate called “The Organization”, Walker may have to take them on if he wants his $93,000 back. After Walker finds his wife, she quickly overdoses on drugs, so he is forced to enlist the help of his sister-in-law, Chris (Angie Dickinson) in order to get to Reese. And, of course, since Lee Marvin is indescribably awesome, he gets himself into a lot of situations where is forced to kick a lot of ass!
This is one of those cases where it was probably better than I saw the remake long before I saw the original film. After seeing Payback, I naturally assumed that Point Blank would be very similar, but this is not a straightforward crime film at all. There are a lot of ambiguities in this story and an almost surreal, dream-like quality to some of the scenes that suggest there’s a lot more to the film than meets the eye. While I greatly enjoyed Payback, I have to concede that it was a much more simplified Hollywood thriller and did not retain a lot of the complexities and depth of Point Blank. For starters, you can sense that something is a little off about the film right away when Walker wakes up in his cell and leaves Alcatraz. They never do explain why he was able to survive his gunshot wounds and how he manages to make it off Alcatraz island without a boat. Soon after, Walker is seen talking with a character named Yost (Keenan Wynn), a cop who wants to help Walker get his money back so that he’ll be able to take on the head honchos of “The Organization” and save the police a lot of work. There is no explanation for how Walker and Yost met in the first place and after awhile, one starts to notice that Yost is never seen interacting with any of the other characters. In its own subtle way, Point Blank seems to be blurring the line between fantasy and reality, though that doesn’t really become apparent until you’ve had time to think things over. When Walker finally starts on his quest for vengeance, John Boorman delivers this brilliantly edited sequence that intercuts a lot of scenes with shots of Walker walking down an undisclosed hallway. The footsteps overwhelm everything on the soundtrack, but it’s never explained where exactly this hallway is. Is this supposed to imply that he’s walking down a path to nowhere?
If one were to analyze everything Walker does in this film, it would seems that he has a LOT of luck in his attempts to to bring down “The Organization” and some of the things that happen to him don’t make a lot of logical sense. Does this mean Walker actually died from his gunshot wounds and that his whole quest for vengeance is just a dream or a fantasy? The movie never provides a definitive answer nor does it shove any of its ambiguities down the viewer’s throat. Even if you weren’t able to pick up on a lot of the surreal elements of the film, Point Blank still functions very well as an entertaining crime thriller. Lee Marvin shows why he is one of the great movie antiheroes of all time and is so perfect in the role of Walker that you wonder what made anyone think they could remake this movie with anyone else in the role. The movie does not shy away at portraying Walker as an amoral bastard who really cares for nothing except revenge and getting his $93,000 back. When he finds out that Reese has a serious desire for Chris, Walker does not hesitate in asking her to go into his penthouse to have sex with him, so that she can help Walker sneak inside. While the underlying story is dark, there are a lot great moments of black humour spread throughout the film and one of the standout sequences involves Chris finally snapping at Walker for not returning the affection she has been trying to show him. The two of them then proceed to engage in a very flirtatious game of cat-and-mouse.
If you’ve watched Payback, you might yourself quite surprised about where this story goes. Payback was content to finally give its antihero a happy ending, but the ending in Point Blank is much, MUCH different and if the remake had tried to replicate it, I’m sure the studio would shot them down. Point Blank‘s ending left me pretty surprised and bewildered at first and it wouldn’t shock me if many viewers found themselves seriously pissed off about it. However, it was only after thinking over everything and watching the film a second time that I figured out what they were trying to do. If the film’s ending makes you hungry to watch the film again and discover what you may have overlooked the first time, then I’d say it’s done its job. Point Blank may be a first-rate crime movie first and foremost, but it’s also a very complex and multi-layered film. That may explain why some people didn’t know what to make of it in 1967 and why the film’s reputation and legacy has only increased at a very slow and gradual pace over the years. Today, Point Blank is considered a classic by some, but it took a really long time for it to get there. So, in the end, Point Blank is one of those rare films you watch just for the purpose of being entertained, but then you find yourself surprised by just how many different interpretations you can make of the whole thing.