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Sunday June 23rd 2024

Point Blank | 1967

Point Blank location location: Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Bay, California
Point Blank location: the opening money drop: Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Bay | Photograph: iStockphoto / Nickolay Stanev

Not the greatest moneyspinner on release, but with its surreal flourishes and carefully controlled colour scheme, John Boorman’s dreamlike thriller was hugely influential, not least on the work of Nicolas Roeg, and has gained a deserved cult status over the years.

It kicks off with the double cross and shooting of Walker (Lee Marvin) during a money drop in the exercise yard of a deserted Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay.

Point Blank was the first feature to be shot on the island (Birdman of Alcatraz, made in 1962, was filmed on studio sets). It’s been followed by Don Siegel‘s Escape From Alcatraz, with Clint Eastwood, Murder In the First and, of course, Michael Bay’s The Rock.

The island functioned as a Federal prison, in effect little more than a dumping ground for problematic convicts, from 1934. Despite the prison's fame, few inmates were household names, though celebrity guests included "Machine Gun" Kelly, Robert Stroud (the ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’), and of course, Al Capone.

By 1963, when the concept of confinement without hope of reformation had become outdated and the cost of maintaining the island prohibitive, the prison was closed.

Alcatraz is now a national park and can be visited by boat from Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. Trips are understandably popular so, if you want to avoid disappointment, best book ahead.

Walker is shot – but is what follows a revenge drama, a ghost story or a dying man’s dream?

The novel is set entirely in San Francisco, but for the film, Walker’s quest for the $93,000 owed to him, leads down the coast to Los Angeles.

Point Blank location location: Miller Drive, West Hollywood
Point Blank location: Walker barges into his wife's new home: Miller Drive, West Hollywood

After that extraordinary sequence of Walker clattering loudly down a seemingly endless corridor, he arrives at the house his former wife Lynne (Sharon Acker) now shares with double-crossing, one-time friend Mal Reese (John Vernon) to make a forcefully no-nonsense entry.

Lynne’s house is 1338 Miller Drive, West Hollywood overlooking what was then the Sunset Strip and the old Tiffany Theatre and Dino’s Lodge (site of TV’s 77 Sunset Strip) – now incomprehensibly replaced by a strip of faceless nothingness.

Ignore the house numbering. At some point 1338 seems to have been 'reversed' to make the rear entrance the front so it's totally out of numerical order. As you can see from the film, the striking staircase entrance is just above the junction with Sunset.

Point Blank location location: Huntley Hotel, 2nd Street, Santa Monica
Point Blank location: the entrance to the penthouse of double-crossing Mal Reese: Huntley Hotel, 2nd Street, Santa Monica

The well-guarded penthouse of Mal Reese himself is atop the Huntley Hotel, 1111 2nd Street, at California Avenue in Santa Monica, which is how walker is able to scope it out with the telescope on the Santa Monica seafront.

Built in 1966 – and so brand spanking new at the time of filming – the Huntley has recently been given a major designer makeover (with a piranha fish theme in the lobby), but city regulations have fortunately prevented major alterations to the structure. Although Reese’s penthouse was added for the movie, the hotel now really is topped with a Penthouse Restaurant, giving 360° views over the city, and reached by that wonderful glass elevator.

Going against the usual trend, the hotel exterior is now fancier than it was in the Sixties.

Point Blank location location: Huntley Hotel, 2nd Street, Santa Monica
Point Blank location: the well-guarded penthouse of double-crossing Mal Reese: Huntley Hotel, 2nd Street, Santa Monica

Look out for a very young Sid Haig (Rob Zombie’s Captain Spaulding) as one of Reese’s guards, and Kathleen Freeman (The Blues Brothers’ Penguin and Singin' In The Rain's elocution teacher) as a socialite at the fundraiser.

The monumental 27-story office block of Reese's boss, Carter (Lloyd Bochner), only just built in 1964 and still towering over the south side of LA's Miracle Mile at 5670 Wilshire Boulevard between Masselin Avenue and Hauser Boulevard, Midtown almost opposite the La Brea Tar Pits. The entrance has unsurprisingly been remodelled but the gleaming monolith remains unmistakeable.

Walker is sent – ostensibly to collect his money – at the storm drain of the concrete bed of the LA River, east of downtown, beneath the 6th Street Viaduct. You might remember this as the spot where the giant ants emerge in Them! or the site of the car race in Grease.

Built in 1932 and two thirds of a mile long, the 6th Street Viaduct was the youngest of the monumental bridges crossing the river here, and possibly the most impressive – even being used as a landing strip in S.W.A.T.. Having become structurally unsound, though, the bridge has been demolished.

There’s a sniper waiting on the Gothic Revival 4th Street Viaduct immediately to the north – but Walker is naturally prepared for this.

With two members of the mysterious Organisation out of the way, Walker turns his attention to Brewster (Carroll O’Connor), who arrives in L A at Santa Monica Airport.

Brewster’s extensive ranch-style estate is a private home at 7655 Curson Terrace, on a bluff overlooking Hollywood Boulevard, with fantastic views across the city. Described as ‘Japanese-Alpine’, the property was luxurious enough to have been rented by The Beatles during their 1966 tour.

Point Blank location: Fort Point, San Francisco
Point Blank location: the final money drop: Fort Point, San Francisco Bay

There seems to be a bit of a cheat at the end, with another money drop in San Francisco.

“The drop has changed, but the run is still the same” covers the fact that the final scene takes place not on Alcatraz, but inside Fort Point, at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The fort, built as part of a defense system to protect the Bay at the height of the Gold Rush, came close to demolition in the 30s with the bridge’s construction. A vast supporting arch was built to straddle the fort, which finally became a National Historic Site in 1970, and is open for tours.

The exterior of the fort achieved screen immortality as the site of Kim Novak’s plunge into the bay in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo.

The film comes full circle as the final shot pans up from the fort, back to a view of Alcatraz Island.