Walker just wants his money back.
And he’ll go to anywhere and confront anyone to get it.
That’s the premise, based on a pulp fiction novel called The Hunter by Donald E. Westlake, for this stylized drama—a movie with 1960s sensibilities that doesn’t always hold up that well.
There are lots of deliberately out-of-focus shots. Plenty of soap opera-like music to set dramatic scenes. And dialogue that goes for tough guy speak, but comes out as cliché.
Lee Marvin as Walker (we never get a first name) is the best thing in the movie. A young Angie Dickinson, as Chris, shows why she was considered a sex symbol 40 years ago.
But the rest of the cast pretty much phones it in.
As Walker’s wife Lynne, Sharon Acker gives a cardboard performance as a woman who betrays him and then, two years later when he confronts her, says, “Walker, I’m glad you’re not dead.”
By this point, she has been abandoned by Mal Reese (the always-evil John Vernon), Walker’s former friend and business associate. Two years earlier, Reese shot Walker and left him for dead in the abandoned prison on Alcatraz Island. The shooting occurred after a money drop from a helicopter. The cash was from “the organization,” a business syndicate involved in high-level criminal activity that is never clearly identified.
Reese, a low-level member of the organization, is deeply in debt and needs to come up with cash. He sets up the heist, promising Walker half—$93,000. Instead, he shoots Walker, steals the money and takes Walker’s wife, with whom he’s already been having an affair.
Somehow, Walker survives and gets off Alcatraz.
The movie picks up two years later as Walker attempts to reclaim his cash and take care of Reese. Bodies keep dropping as he methodically moves up the ladder, going from one member of the organization to another in search of his money.
Dickinson’s Chris is his former sister-in-law. She becomes his love interest after Lynne, distraught over the mess her life has become, commits suicide. Lynne does this shortly after Walker shows up at her doorstep—and after he fires nearly a dozen shots into the empty bed in her apartment, where he assumed she was sleeping with Reese. After she overdoses on that same bullet-riddled mattress, Walker approaches her dead body and places his wedding ring on her finger.
Did we mention the soap opera-like quality here?
From there, Walker becomes a man consumed with his mission. Chris helps him dispose of Reese and, naturally, they fall in love.
But first they fight. She slaps him. She hits him with a pool stick and she ransacks a house where they are lying in wait for another organization member.
Of course, they end up in bed.
“Heh, what’s my last name?” she asks after they have spent the night together.
“What’s my first name?” Walker responds.
They both then nod knowingly. Only in Love Story have we heard that kind of romantic dialogue.
Along the way there are snipers, beatings and car crashes.
Yost (Keenan Wynn), a mysterious character, keeps showing up to offer Walker bits of information that help him peel away the layers of mystery and track the leaders of the organization. Who is he and why does he do this? You have to wait to find out.
Walker eventually gets what he came for, but the premise of the movie seems convoluted. Ironically, one of the members of the organization makes this point, when he asks Walker, “Good Lord, man, do you mean to say you’d bring down this immense organization for a paltry $93,000?”
And that’s the problem. If this organization was as powerful and sophisticated as it was made out to be, somewhere along the blood-strewn road to the story’s conclusion, someone would have decided it was cheaper and easier just to give the guy his money.
WHAT THEY WROTE AT THE TIME: “As suspense thrillers go, Point Blank is pretty good. It gets back into the groove of Hollywood thrillers after the recent glut of spies, counterspies, funny spies, anti-hero spies and spy-spier spies. Marvin is just a plain, simple tough guy who wants to have the same justice done for him as was done for Humphrey Bogart.”—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
REALITY CHECK: Located on an island surrounded by a treacherous bay, Alcatraz prison was considered nearly impossible to escape. So it’s hard to imagine how Walker survives the initial hit that sets the movie in motion. We see him in the water and the assumption is that he swims to land. But after being left for dead with two bullet holes in him, that’s a bit of a stretch. Of course, that would also explain why he’s so angry and bent on revenge two years later.
GOOF: Chris is wearing a not-particularly-attractive yellow dress when she and Walker end up in bed. The next morning, she is putting on a more stylish white outfit. Unless there was a closet full of women’s clothes in the organization’s safe house where the tryst took place, how’d she do that?
REPEATED WATCHING QUOTIENT: Once is enough.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: This was the first film shot on the site of the famous prison. Alcatraz had closed just three years before the film went into production.
BEST LINE: “You should have stayed an accountant,” says Yost (Keenan Wynn) to a dying organization executive at the end of the film, when most of the other leaders of the organization have been killed over the paltry $93,000 that is owed to Walker.
IF YOU LIKED THIS, YOU’LL LIKE: Payback, the 1999 retelling of the same story, starring Mel Gibson and the always sexy Maria Bello. Set in the drug underworld, the story is in some ways easier to follow and Gibson does a good job as the relentlessly put-upon anti-hero known only as “Porter.”
“I KNOW THAT GUY”: The sniper who makes two brief appearances is James Sikking, a character actor best known for his recurring role as the pipe-smoking Lt. Howard Hunter on the classic TV cop series Hill Street Blues in the 1980s.
VIOLENCE LEVEL: High but not unexpected, given the storyline.
BODY COUNT: Seven, including a suicide and a long fall from the balcony of a penthouse apartment.
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[Reprinted from The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies by George Anastasia and Glen Macnow. Available from Running Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2011.]
George Anastasia is a crime reporter for the “Philadelphia Inquirer” and author of several books, including “Blood and Honor” which Jimmy Breslin called “the best gangster book ever written.”
Glen Macnow was a writer for the “Philadelphia Inquirer” and “Detroit Free Press.” He is currently a talk-radio host on 610-WIP in Philadelphia.
George and Glen have co-authored “The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies.”