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The Parker Films: The Split (1968)

September 2nd, 2020
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I’m continuing my look at the films based on Donald E. Westlake (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark)’s Parker character.  Click here for my review of 1967’s Point Blank, starring Lee Marvin, an adaptation of the Parker novel The Hunted.  One year later, Jim Brown starred in The Split, adapted from the seventh Parker novel, called The Seventh.

At its core, the skeleton of The Split isn’t so different from Point Blank.  The Parker character (here called, somewhat inexplicably, McClain) plans and executes a clever score, only to get betrayed and forced to work hard to 1) survive 2) get revenge and 3) get back his cut of the money.  But despite those superficial similarities, I was pleased that The Split is actually quite different from Point Blank in tone and structure.  For example, in place of Point Blank’s flashback chronology, The Split unfolds in a very straightforward manner.  And the betrayal and its fallout don’t go down until the final 25-ish minutes of the film, thus representing a third-act twist rather than the inciting incident of the film.

Like Point Blank, The Split is a tight, taut thriller.  It’s lean and mean.  As I commented in my review of Point Blank, they don’t really make movies like this anymore: mean movies about mean people who are criminal professionals.  Unlike Point Blank, though, which is a revenge story right from the beginning, The Split unfolds more like a cool adventure.  There’s more of a sense of fun to the film.  We go on quite a ride as we follow McClaine & co. on their robbery of a football game, and it’s all enhanced by Quincy Jone’s hip music and Jim Brown’s calm, cool charm.

I love Jim Brown in the title role!  Mr. Brown was a football player who then became an actor.  The film is carefully structured in a way that doesn’t force him to stretch too much.  Casting him in the terse, mostly silent Parker role was a good choice.  But that’s not to take away from his strong performance!  Mr. Brown has a powerful natural charisma that shines through.  I thought he was an effective leading man, and I had no trouble rooting for him as the film unfolded.

They wisely surrounded Mr. Brown with a terrific ensemble.  I love the time the film spends developing the crew that Mclain pulls the heist with.  They’re each interesting, memorable characters.  Jack Klugman (The Odd Couple) plays the driver, Kifka.  ErnestBorgnine (From Here to Eternity, The Wild Bunch, McHale’s Navy) plays the tough-guy fighter, Clinger.  Donald Sutherland (The Dirty Dozen, Animal House, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, A Time to Kill, the Hunger Games films) … [continued]

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The Parker Films: Point Blank (1967)

August 26th, 2020
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Recently I read Darwyn Cooke’s four magnificent graphic novel adaptations of the Parker novels written by Donald E. Westlake under the pseudonym Richard Stark.  The late, great Darwyn Cooke was a master of the comics form (his New Frontier miniseries, which retold the story of the DC universe as a period piece beginning in the nineteen thirties, is a masterpiece), and his beautiful, faithful adaptation of four Parker novels (The Hunter, The Score, The Outfit, and Slayground) are not to be missed.  Donald Westlake wrote 24 novels featuring his Parker character, and over the decades quite a few of them have been adapted into films.  Over the years, I have read a lot about many of these films.  (Primarily in the wonderful back-pages of the crime comics written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Sean Phillips, such as Criminal.)  I decided it was time to take a look at some of those films, so I decided to start with the first (and, having now seen many of them, what I think is the greatest) of the Parker adaptions: 1967’s Point Blank.

Point Blank is a (pretty faithful) adaptation of the Parker novel The Hunter.  Lee Marvin stars as the Parker character (renamed Walker here because apparently Mr. Westlake refused permission for these film adaptations to use the Parker name).  When the film opens, Walker is being released from prison.  Years earlier, Walker and another criminal named Mal Reese had pulled off a heist for a lot of money, but Reese betrayed and shot Walker, leaving him for dead.  Now Walker is back and out for revenge, as well as his $93,000 cut of the money.  But Reese used that money to pay back the debt he owed to a crime organization referred to as the Syndicate.  Reese is now an official in that Syndicate, meaning that Walker has to go up against not only Reese, but this entire criminal organization.

I really enjoyed this film!  Its reputation as a classic is well-earned.  This is a tightly-plotted, tense and taut noir story.  It’s very minimalist, with sparse dialogue and scenes that are short and to the point.  There’s no extraneous mucking about or time-wasting anywhere to be found.

Lee Marvin is great as Walker.  He plays this “tough silent-type” character so well.  His chiseled-from-granite face suits this character to a T.  It’s a very restrained, internal performance.  But, wow, Mr. Marvin is totally convincing and scary as this thief who should not be messed with.

The film sticks fairly closely to the structure of Mr. Westlake’s novel.  I love that they maintained the out of order chronology of the book.  It gives the film a very modern sensibility.  The two … [continued]