The 8 Parker Movies (Where He's Only Called Parker in One of Them)
It all started when I saw Mel Gibson as a character called "Porter" in the fun action thriller "Payback" (1999.) The reviews had clued me in: this was a remake of the 1967 Lee Marvin movie "Point Blank," and both films shared two great premises:
ONE: The tough guy anti-hero (Marvin, Gibson) is double-crossed by his wife and their robbery partner, shot and left for dead.
TWO: The tough guy anti-hero SURVIVES, and single-mindedly tricks, bullies, cajoles, kidnaps, and occasionally kills his way up the corporate ladder of "The Outfit"(aka The Syndicate, aka evidently the Irish Mafia) to secure what the higher-ups think is a ridiculously small sum of owed money ($92,000 in Point Blank; a DROP down to $70,000 in Porter). As incredulous higher up James Coburn protests in Payback: "$70,000? That's what I pay for my SUITS!")
Point Blank was directed by British auteur John Boorman(soon to make Deliverance) as part of the "New American Wave" of 1967(Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate were in the lead positions) and had things like flash cuts, flashbacks, flash forwards, inexplicable and incoherent events and...thanks to Lee Marvin...an incredible sense of coolness and indefatigable determination. When Angie Dickenson pounds with her fists on Marvin's chest and the man does nothing...she stands in for the entire audience trying to "get through" to Marvin's implacable crook-killer.
Payback was directed (and written) by a novice: screenwriter Brian Helgeland, coming off of an Oscar for co-writing the great "LA Confidential" with that film's director Curtis Hanson. Ultimately, star Gibson pressured Helgeland off his own movie and evidently filmed an entirely new third act -- but I liked that version well enough. The "Payback" script carries forth SOME of the wit and structures of LAC...and pits Gibson against a fine supporting cast of adversarial gangsters.
Interesting: whereas Gibson -- a true star -- has to ACT like a tough guy in Payback(he affects a look, a voice, an attitude that is tougher than his more "crazy" Lethal Weapon guy) , Lee Marvin simply WAS a tough guy(wounded WWII vet, brawler, heavy drinker, etc.)
Still, I rather like Payback better. Point Blank was made when punches still had to be pulled. Lee Marvin never quite goes where Mel Gibson goes in terms of ruthlessness, to wit:
Gibson has knocked out all guards and faces mid-level mob manager William Devane across a desk. Gibson has Devane call "the big boss"(surprisingly granite faced Kris Kristofferson) on speaker phone. Gibson basically says "Authorize Devane to pay me my $70,000 right now or I'll shoot him." Kristofferson scoffs. We get this phone conversation:
Gibson: Yes or no.
...and Gibson shoots the "cool" Devane, who not only can't believe he's being shot over $70,000 but drops a set of false teeth out of his mouth on dying (interesting detail.)
Its ruthless, its funny, its very 1999 and Lee Marvin in Point Blank in 1967 couldn't do that.
Our hero REALLY wants vengeance on the guy who shot him, stole his money and stole his wife(the guy can't produce the $92,000/$70,000.)
It Point Blank, that guy is baritone, officious John Vernon and he gets a spectacular nude fall from a skyscraper.
In Payback, that guy is a much more sadistic and smarmy Gregg Henry(a Brian DePalma villain standard), and Gibson corners him after Henry is beating up the cute hooker(Maria Bello) who is helping Gibson on his quest. Gibson asks Henry for a light for a cigarette, and we get the following exchange:
Gibson: You got a light?
Gibson: Then what good are you?
...and he shoots Henry through a pillow pushed on the man's head to muffle the shot.
Funny: in Point Blank, it takes a long time for Marvin to catch up with John Vernon, but in Payback, Gibson catches him a lot sooner, kills him -- and moves on up the ladder to get his dough.
The critical community seems to think that Point Blank is the more "classic" version of this tale (from a novel by "Richard Stark," actually Donald E. Westlake, called The Hunter), what with its New Wave bonafides, but I prefer Payback. Mainly for the scenes where Gibson kills William Devane and Gregg Henry, but also for the CASTING of William Devane and Gregg Henry. And the funny kinkiness around the edges (Lucy Lieu in an early role as a dominatrix who likes to beat the hell out of Henry even BEFORE Gibson does.) Also "Payback" for its 1999 version of the Point Blank artistry: here, desaturated blue-gray images that make Payback look "black and white in color."
Lee Marvin is "Walker" in Point Blank. Mel Gibson is "Porter" in "Payback." But, amazingly both characters are based on a guy called "Parker" in the books. Evidently, Stark/Westlake wouldn't allow the name "Parker" to be used in the movies. Until...almost the end of the line.