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Monday, August 04, 2014

Where Lee Marvin Pushed Movie Limits

Firing Point Blank (1967) At a Dying PCA

Much Too Mod a One-Sheet For LM To Be Part Of
Point Blank was the perfect title for a Lee Marvin picture, but I remember not much liking the one-sheet advertising it --- too psychedelic to befit conservative image Marvin represented (his "up-tight world"?). LM was establishment cool when old ways were otherwise challenged or discarded. Short-cropped hair, taciturn if not lethal, Lee always seemed older than he actually was (a mere forty-three at time of Point Blank). Hard as brick and true to character in three that exploded over a quick year of joyous moviegoing, The Professionals, The Dirty Dozen, and Point Blank, Marvin seemed ready to go John Wayne better for a more knowing, if not cynical, action era. I was glad at the time to see him dump Cat Ballou funnies and hew to persona established by M Squad. What disappointment then, to see Lee don whiskers and do slapstick (and song) in stinkers like Paint Your Wagon or whatever Cathouse silliness/broad farce attempted to reprise his Academy win from Cat Ballou.

You knew Hollywood wasn't the same efficient system when favorites would deal a couple or three aces of exactly what we wanted, only to follow with a dog, and then another dog. It happened with Paul Newman, straight flush of Harper, Hombre, Cool Hand Luke ... and then The Secret War Of Harry Frigg. Steve McQueen had The ThomasCrown Affair and Bullitt ... sputtered from there. It wasn't easy staying star loyal in the late sixties. I remember a snow day off from school and mushing through drifts to see Lee Marvin's newest, Sergeant Ryker, much anticipated as it followed his vaunted three. Lee back in uniform --- would it be another Dirty Dozen? Letdown came of drying off in Liberty warmth to damp disappointment Ryker proved to be. It coming from Universal should have been alert in a decade when U so often meant P-U (the taint of television upon most of their features). I'd learn from newspapers that Sergeant Ryker was indeed done for free broadcast, then diverted to theatres when Marvin got hot. There'd not been a movie cheat so egregious since the Man From UNCLE rips.

So back to Point Blank. First viewing for me was at Greensboro's brand-new Terrace Theatre, just opened site of new-fangled "Ultravision," the ABC circuit's widest of screens short of 70mm or Cinerama. Ultravision was impressive, though we'd not know at the time that this was last gasp for all-engulfing images before theatres began twinning and cracker-boxing became norm. I was confused and a little irritable with Point Blank's screwy exposition and camera flippery by director John Boorman, but did not the poster give notice of this? (there was, in fact, mild apprehension going in) I was thirteen and wanted my Marvin straight, as poured by Professional's Richard Brooks and Dozen's Robert Aldrich. Point Blank seemed muddy with show-off direction (1967 Metrocolor in part to blame), Boorman at odds with elemental yarn the movie spun. Watching again last week (just-out on Blu-Ray), I noticed frills leveling off after a first reel, Point Blank resolving to story and Marvin magnetism that was/still basis for watching.

The Great Lee Marvin Triad led a vanguard insofar as adult content just before collapse of the Production Code and implementation of a ratings system. The Professionals, The Dirty Dozen, and Point Blank would reliably push limits imposed on actioners that came before, violence taking on serrated edge and profanities more profuse. Ralph Bellamy addresses Marvin as "you bastard" in The Professionals, to which laconic Lee replies that with him it was an accident of birth, "but you sir, are a self-made man," a line I'd hear quoted for several years following. The Dirty Dozen had Marvin face-kicking "little bastard" John Cassevetes as prelude to a mission where disarmed Germans are slaughtered wholesale. When Point Blank came along third with nude glimpse of Angie Dickinson plus blood taps opened wider, we knew movies were headed for grown-up places, Lee Marvin leading the way.

Nice To Know That Little Caesar and The Thin Man Still
Meant Something To Publicity, Even As Late As 1967
Later observers wondered if all of Point Blank was a dream, Lee's character perhaps a ghost come back to even accounts. PB strikes me on recent watch as mosaic of The Walking Dead (1936) and I Walk Alone (1948), apropos as Marvin's character is named Walker. Had screenwriters looked at these oldies and figured to have fun with their titles vis-a-vis "Walker"? In The Walking Dead, Boris Karloff is back from the grave, but doesn't actually kill those he pursues. They either do each other in or bring about own demise, same as in Point Blank. I Walk Alone had Burt Lancaster wanting his share of a crime haul after years locked up, but corporate structure put in place since his depart won't allow him to simply collect, same dilemma Lee Marvin faces. Point Blank was fresh coat applied to an old structure, but no less enjoyable for it. Cult status was achieved in due time, but not ahead of prints turned pink or necessary Panavision denied TV and cassettes. The Blu-Ray gets Point Blank righter than what I recall from 1967, another instance where digital actually improves on an initial feed.


Blogger Kevin K. said...

Finally got around to seeing Point-Blank about a year ago. My wife and I agreed: there is nobody like Lee Marvin around today, and movies are the poorer for it.

And only 43? Wow, that's a lot of hard living in that face.

2:40 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Interesting that you mention the Ultravision projection system. There were a number of these in the Norfolk, Va Beach, Newport News area and most were egg shaped viewed from the sky. It was fairly impressive at least until the exhibitors got lazy about replacing their bulbs when they began to dim. None of these houses are still open sadly. They looked pretty awful when they were cheaply multiplexed.

8:46 PM  
Blogger The League said...

Perhaps worth mentioning (or not) that "Point Blank" was an adaptation of the first "Parker" novel by Richard Stark, "The Hunter". I enjoy "Point Blank" a great deal, but the deviations were great enough that Stark had the main character's name changed from "Parker" to "Walker". The book has been adapted since as "Payback" starring Mel Gibson. A few years back I saw Angie Dickinson discuss the movie at the Castro in SF, and, apparently, she really did slap Marvin until she collapsed, and he really did just stand there. One tough hombre.

11:48 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Ken Von Gunden shares some thoughts about Lee Marvin,"Point Blank," and theatre-going in the 60's:

Hi, John.

Great POINT BLANK piece. I just saw it again last week (unfortunately NOT in blu-ray) and noticed, as you pointed out, that Marvin doesn't actually kill anyone in the film. He had wanted someone else for the female lead, so Angie D. was a tad resentful of him and really let him have it when she had to hit him.

This was the first showing (1 PM) at a brand-new theater in State College in 1967, the CINEMA TWO (for some reason SC theaters never had cool moviehouse names, just generic ones). They were still hammering away behind the screen before the film started up.

Falling victim to dwindling attendance, the TWO became CINEMA 5.
Cinema 1, the left theater, was made smaller and Cinema 2, the right theater, was turned into four auditoriums with one heating/cooling unit. In the summer, the largest of the four newbies was cold, the second still a bit too cool, the third auditorium was just about right, the fourth a bit too warm, and the final room was too damned hot!
Gosh, Lee Marvin was great in the right roles!


9:42 AM  

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