Three and a Half Worlds of Parker By Mike White. “Why do you keep calling that movie ‘Parker’?” Andrea asked me. She had seen Payback before I did and knew that Mel Gibson’s character’s name was Porter, so where was I getting this ‘Parker’ thing from? Huh...
“Why do you keep calling that movie ‘Parker’?” Andrea asked me. She had seen Payback before I did and knew that Mel Gibson’s character’s name was Porter, so where was I getting this ‘Parker’ thing from?
Huh. I could have sworn that that movie was called “Parker” at one point. I seemed to remember an annoying teaser from ages ago. The tagline “Get Mad, Get Tough, Get Even” had left a bad taste in my mouth. I dreaded seeing another Mel Gibson flick, as the memory of Conspiracy Theory was fresh in my mind. What was he going to do; act like a tortured goof again? Was it going to be his famous Lethal Weapon mix of Three Stooges violence with a wink towards the camera followed by a quick quip? No, this time Mel was going to “break the mold.”
Little did I know at the time but Payback was the bastard kin of one of my favorite films, Point Blank (see CdC #4). Parker is the name of the ruthless anti-hero (or non-hero) of Richard Stark’s book The Hunter, which was the first in a series of novels to feature the character. Stark is a nom de plume of prolific author Donald Westlake as well as an adjective for the stripped-down prose Westlake employs in his Parker series.
Parker has appeared in various guises in, to date, over twenty novels and seven films. Parker became “Walker” in John Boorman’s 1967 Point Blank, tenaciously played by Lee Marvin. Meanwhile, Parker was to become “Porter” in Brian Helgeland’s 1999 Payback.
Regardless, before reading The Hunter, I unconsciously insisted on calling Helgeland’s film “Parker.” Why this was remained a mystery to me until I finally realized that, despite the main character’s name, the film had once incongruously been called Parker and not Payback. This was one of myriad changes the film was to undergo between the time I saw the aforementioned teaser trailer and Payback’s delayed release.
A second look at a film’s trailer while the movie is fresh in one’s mine can often reveal a wealth of lost shots or scenes. This has never been more true than when one takes a second glance at the early trailer for Payback, which is fortuitously included on Paramount’s DVD release of the film. Roughly, half of the shots in this ninety-second preview do not appear in the finished film! Even a look at the longer preview that was released just prior to the film’s opening reveals a shot or two that remained unseen in Payback. More than different inflections of line readings or camera angles, entire characters and scenes appeared to have disappeared between the time those trailers were released.
Apparently, Mel Gibson knew that Porter was not a nice guy. Apparently he decided during filming that he didn’t want to taint his public image by being the hardboiled robber who’s come back from the brink of death for vengeance. After completion of Brian Helgeland’s Parker (as his version of the film will be known for the rest of this article), Mel flexed his Hollywood muscles and shot scenes penned by Terry Hayes (The Road Warrior, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, et cetera) for the film that would become Payback. It was Gibson’s film that audiences saw and it was worlds apart from Brian Helgeland’s, John Boorman’s or Richard Stark’s vision of Parker.
Richard Stark’s novel, The Hunter, begins with Parker crossing the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan. He’s described as being “big and shaggy with flat square shoulders [with] arms too long in sleeves too short.” The working ends of those too-long arms soon become the focus of the reader’s attention. Parker’s hands swing “curve-fingered at his sides,” looking like “they were molded of brown clay by a sculptor who thought big and liked veins.” Though Parker knows how to use a gun, it is his hands he wants to use to exact his revenge. “He wanted Mal Resnick-he wanted him between his hands. Not the money back. Not Lynn back. Just Mal, between his hands.”
In a formula he’d employ in future Parker novels, Stark skillfully crafts a narrative that changes focus from Parker to his nemesis Mal, pausing often for extended flashbacks in order to explain their past. It isn’t until the last chapter of the novel’s second section that we learn the details of the island arms-deal heist where the tables were turned on Parker. Mal double-crossed him, took his wife, and killed the three other guys involved in the robbery. Mal and Lynn left Parker for dead, and, by all rights, he should have stayed dead.
Crawling wounded from the building Mal set ablaze, Parker used those powerful hands to dig himself a makeshift grave where he stayed, like Christ, for three days before crawling out and being picked up for vagrancy-covered in blood, bruised and barefoot on the side of the road. He did six out of an eight-month sentence before breaking out and heading west to find Mal. He came into New York silently, like a ghost. “He didn’t want Mal to know he was alive. He didn’t want Mal spooked and on the run. He wanted him easy and content, a fat cat. He wanted him just sitting there, grinning, waiting for Parker’s hands.”
After following a trail from his wife, Lynn (who subsequently overdoses on sleeping pills), to a cab stand operator, Stegman, he hits a dead end. At this point, Parker tries to get a bead on Mal from a former associate, Jimmy Delgardo (remember this name), and a whore, Rosie. After some convincing, she gives him a lead to Mal’s room at The Outfit’s hotel.
Until getting word through Stegman, Mal had been relatively content. The money he took from Parker had let him buy his way back in The Outfit (often called “the organization,” “the corporation” or “the syndicate” but never referred to as “the mob”). Now he was a mid-level executive whose only real complaint (before learning that Parker has returned for retribution) is that his girlfriend, a junkie named Pearl, just isn’t a high-class enough piece of ass. Mal is ambitious, after all.
The news of Parker’s resurrection startles Mal so much that he tries to get help from The Outfit. Doing this demonstrates Mal’s weakness. His “manager,” Mr. Carter, tells Mal that his problem has three possible solutions: 1) Assist him, which would be protecting The Outfit’s investment in Mal; 2) Let Mal handle it himself, which would show The Outfit that he’s self-reliant; Or 3) Replace him, thus removing the “external danger” Mal has brought with him.
Carter chooses the second option and boots Mal out of The Outfit’s hotel. Left in the cold and more vulnerable to Parker and his eager, meaty hands, Mal rents a high-class hotel suite and orders a hundred-dollar blonde to spend the night with him. Little does he know what a favor he’s doing for himself by springing for these luxuries. He’s going out in style.
After finding Mal’s Outfit hotel room empty, Parker returns to Rosie. It takes a few harsh words and some serious hair-pulling before Rosie is motivated to locate Mal through alternate channels. Knowing Parker’s intentions and that her nosing around for Mal will implicate her as an accomplice, Rosie begins packing after Parker leaves with an address. She’s as good as dead. Her only comfort could be that her death is sure to be quicker and less painful than Mal’s.
It’s only after Parker has Mal between his hands for a while, choking the life out of him, that he realizes that Mal’s death won’t satisfy him. “For the first time he thought about the money. Killing Mal wasn’t enough, it left a hole in the world afterward. Once he’d killed that bastard, what then? He had less than two thousand dollars to his name. He had to go on living, he had to get back into his old groove. The resort hotels and the occasional job, the easy comfortable life until this bastard had come along in his taxicab and told him about the job on the island. And to get back to that life, he needed money. Forty-five thousand dollars.”
Thus begins the fourth and final section of the novel-Parker getting his money from The Outfit; going through the chain of command from Mr. Carter to Mr. Fairfax to Mr. Bronson, until Bronson agrees to pay “the mosquito” Parker. An agreement is made that Parker will receive his forty-five thousand dollars at a train station in Brooklyn. After disarming the goons that have been sent to eliminate him and sending them on their way, Parker finally gets his money. It takes some fancy footwork to make his way to safety back in his Manhattan hotel room.
Checking out with two suitcases-one holding his clothes and shaving kit, the other stuffed with cash-Parker is stopped by two police detectives wishing to question his relationship with Jimmy Delgardo. Suspicion had fallen on Parker after he had been asking around about Delgardo days before as Delgardo had just been picked up for drug-running. Using his wits and brutal hands again, Parker escapes.
It isn’t until he’s inside a cab speeding to Grand Central Station that Parker realizes that he’s made a forty-five thousand dollar mistake-he grabbed the wrong suitcase as he made his way out the door. A marked man without a dime to his name, Parker knows that it’ll take some doing before he can get back to a life of luxury. Naturally, the best target for getting some quick cash is the organization that wants him dead.
It wasn’t until an editor at Pocket Books asked Richard Stark/Donald Westlake for a change in the ending and three Parker books a year that the unrepentant Parker managed to escape from the police. Until that point, when Parker was caught that was the end of him and, for all Westlake knew, the end of his writing career as Richard Stark. It appears that even from his earliest days in 1962 that Parker exhibited his adaptability.
Parker first appeared on screen in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1966 film Made In U.S.A.based on the 6th film in the Parker series, The Jugger. However, not only did Parker change names but also his sex!
It wasn’t until a year later that Parker’s first adventure was brought to the big screen. John Boorman’s Point Blank is often described as being an art film or a last gasp of the classic film noir genre. Certainly, Boorman’s use of flashbacks, cutting, and sound is often avant-garde and quite unusual for what could be a typical robber/revenge genre film.
In it, Parker’s name has been changed to “Walker,” which could best be explained as a clue to the idea that Lee Marvin’s character may not be quite alive. That is, he might very well be the walking dead. (Stark would later acknowledge this name in his The Black Ice Score by mentioning that Parker once operated under the pseudonym “Matthew Walker.”)
The story’s setting has been taken from New York to another classic backdrop of film noir stories, Los Angeles. Up the coast a bit, Alcatraz is utilized for the island drop of The Hunter. The film begins with Walker taking two bullets to the gut. Immediately we’re shown how he found his way onto his back, bleeding, in a jail cell during a small, pre-credits flashback sequence. We see Mal Reese (John Vernon) talking Walker and his wife, Lynne (Sharon Acker), into helping out on a heist and the subsequent betrayal.
Yes, along with Parker’s name change to Walker, Mal’s last name has been Anglicized a bit. Why Lynn has an “e” on the end of her name is lost to me, except perhaps to tie her to the three vowels of Mal’s new name.
Sometime after Walker performed the amazing feat of escaping from Alcatraz (if the bullet wounds don’t get you, the swim just might), he returns for a tour and is confronted by Yost (Keenan Wynn). Yost is intimately familiar with Walker’s plight and forces him into an uneasy partnership. “You want Reese, and I want the organization. I’m going to help you and you’re going to help me.” Yost then turns over Lynne’s new address in Los Angeles.
The scene of Walker coming to see Lynne is amazing. Walker is shown traveling through a long corridor-his feet echoing-intercut with Lynne going about her day. The sound of his feet never ceases, even when he’s shown driving to her apartment and waiting for her. On and on they go, marching back from the grave and into Lynne’s nightmare world.
“Walker, I’m glad you’re not dead,” Lynne admits after he breaks into her apartment and shoots her mattress (expecting Mal to be there). Lynne soliloquizes as Walker sits silently on her couch, spent shells emptied across her plush pay-off apartment’s coffee table. Lynne narrates the story of their meeting, along with the introduction of Mal into their relationship. She paints a long, idyllic past between the three of them; the scene is reminiscent of the “We’ll always have Paris” flashback in Casablanca.
That night, Lynne overdoses on sleeping pills and Parker begins his long wait for Stegman’s pay-off man to arrive. In Point Blank, we don’t have a scene in which Walker disposes of Lynne’s body as we do in The Hunter. Instead, her body and even her sheets spookily disappear after Walker leaves the room and sees Yost staked out across the street.
In Point Blank “Big John” Stegman (Michael Strong) is the personification of the stereotypical slimy used car salesman. Walker takes Stegman for a test drive he won’t soon forget and finds out that Mal has moved from sleeping with Lynne to courting her sister, Chris (Angie Dickinson).
Stegman reports his encounter with Walker directly to Mal, showing him the wrecked remains of Walker’s test car. Mal assigns Stegman to find Walker and, amazingly, he does. Two goons try their best to get a piece of Walker in the back of Chris’ nightclub. Amid the colored lights, screeching music and slides of women, Walker pounds the hell out of them before taking leave of their company and searching out his sister-in-law.
Reese comes to the fast-talking Mr. Carter (Lloyd Bochner) for help. The film’s Carter is much more disapproving of Reese, saying that he was against taking Mal back into the organization because trouble seems to follow him like a lost dog. Carter admonishes Mal but doesn’t force his removal from The Outfit’s hotel. By allowing him to stay, the film eliminates the work that Parker went through to get into Mal’s empty room in The Hunter and, instead, tightens the flow of the narrative.
When Walker visits Chris, he tells her that he wants Reese and his money. Already inflation has driven up the stakes that Walker’s out for-he wants his ninety-three thousand dollars. Walker decides to use Chris as bait, sending her up to Mal’s penthouse room.
Walker brandishes a gun; not using his hands on Mal except when the cowardly Reese faints at the sight of him, forcing Walker to slap him around a few times to revive him. More than revenge, Walker is immediately concerned with his money and gets the chain of command of The Outfit from Reese before the poor sap falls over the side of a building. Thus, Walker has been robbed of the satisfaction of killing his betrayers (Lynne and Mal).
After Walker finds him at a business conference, Mr. Carter sends Stegman to drop off Walker’s cash. While Stegman drives to one of Los Angeles’s famous storm drains (as seen in Grease, The Junkman, and Terminator 2), Walker breaks in to Carter’s office, informing him, “I want to be paid personally.” Of course, Walker realizes that the drop is a set-up and, by sending Carter out to Stegman, that these two will both be eliminated (by sharpshooter James B. Sikking in an early role).
With Carter out of the way, Walker moves up the chain of command to Brewster. Oddly, there is no Bronson in Point Blank. Instead, Brewster is The Hunter’s Fairfax while Fairfax is a mere moneyman for the organization: an accountant.
Walker consorts with Yost regarding the whereabouts of Brewster. As in The Hunter, this middleman is out of town, forced to return after the elimination of Carter. As Brewster, Carroll O’Connor is hilarious. After Walker knocks out his luggage-carrying bodyguard, Brewster admonishes him saying, “You’re a very bad man, Walker! A very destructive man! Why do you run around doing things like this? What do you want?”
Startled, Walker says, “I want my money.”
“Ninety-three thousand dollars? You’d threaten a financial structure like this for ninety-three thousand dollars? No, Walker, I don’t believe you. What do you really want?”
As if to convince himself, Walker has to repeat, “I want my money.”
Confused and distraught by Brewster’s assurances that no one is going to pay him, Walker shrugs and mutters, “Somebody’s gotta pay.”
When calling Fairfax, Brewster informs him that Walker has a gun pointed his way. Walker does not. Brewster is merely trying to prove that Fairfax isn’t about to agree to extortion. The dialogue is similar to what Parker says to Bronson while he holds a gun on Carter in The Hunter, except that instead of shooting Brewster, Walker shoots the phone. Brewster appears to feel Walker’s frustration and informs him that there’s still one set-up where large sums of money change hands, the Alcatraz run.
Walker returns to the scene of his “demise” with Brewster. He waits in the shadows while Brewster retrieves the money and is promptly shot (hired gun Sikking strikes again). As he collapses, Brewster sees Yost entering the compound and shouts, “This is Fairfax, Walker! Kill him!” Walker remains hidden while Yost/Fairfax tells him, “Our deal’s done.” Yost/Fairfax tries to convince Walker to join him, as Fairfax has moved from being an accountant to the top spot in the organization.
Walker fades into darkness as Fairfax and his sharpshooter walk away, leaving Brewster and a wrapped bundle of paper (disguised as money) laying in the dim rays of the morning sun.
The sharp-witted Parker would never have allowed himself to be played the fool by Fairfax as Walker had been. Though Walker is a brute (shoving around Lynne, putting a nail through Stegman’s delivery boy, pistol-whipping some goons and using others’ testicles as a punching bag), he’s not nearly as malevolent as Parker is. His vengeance is more financially than personally or professionally motivated. When Brewster flatly refuses to pay Walker, he’s defeated and without any real way of making The Outfit pay. Walker doesn’t appear to belong to Parker’s underworld of professional thieves. In contrast, his only ally is Chris...and Yost.
It’s important to note that Walker never kills anyone. After his resurrection he becomes more of a catalyst-as if his presence alone were setting events in motion. Walker can be thought of as Yost’s golem-being created and laid to rest on Alcatraz-and doing Yost’s bidding. Remember that the two met on Walker’s boat ride back to the island prison; why Walker would choose to return to the spot of his “demise” is never explained.
The name change to “Walker” makes sense when taking Lee Marvin’s direct approach and unstoppable march through the film into account. Why Brian Helgeland changed Parker’s name to “Porter” is a bigger mystery. Could this be a reference to William Sydney Porter, another author, like Donald Westlake, famous for his pen name, O. Henry? At one point in The Hunter, Stark describes Parker’s trip from the prison farm where he spent six months to New York as “coming across the country like an O. Henry tramp.” It’s possible. Stranger things have happened. More likely, however, “Porter” came from a line in Stark’s The Green Eagle Score, “Lynch was not of course the man’s real name. One time when he had come with another man, the other had called him by a different name, which Berridge could no longer be sure he remembered. Porter, Walker, Archer...something like that”
Parker & Payback
Certainly, Brian Helgeland’s film took an odd journey from the time principal photography began in September of 1997 until its release in the commercial dead zone of February 1999.
For all of the liberties Brian Helgeland took in adapting The Hunter, it remained faithful in the overall tone of the book. First off, Porter is an enigmatic character-there is no voice-over in Parker in order to get inside Porter’s head. True, the voice-over in Payback introduces a film noir convention but without a voice-over, the tone of the film is closer to the third-person omniscient point-of-view of Stark’s novel. By hearing Porter, the audience is forced into identifying with him. Moreover, unfortunately, the voice-over immediately sets Porter’s goal at merely getting his paltry seventy thousand dollars. “Not many men know what their life’s worth, but I do. Seventy grand. That’s what they took from me, and that’s what I was gonna get back.”
Seventy thousand? Certainly it’s more than forty-five but it’s less than the ninety-three that Walker wanted thirty-two years before! Porter would threaten a financial structure like The Outfit for seventy thousand dollars? No, I don’t believe it. Such a laughably small amount does make Porter’s quest to take on The Outfit look more like an act of stupidity or blind bravado than a matter of honor. Even Parker/Payback’s Fairfax (James Coburn) cracks that his suits cost more than seventy thousand! In fact, to undertake such a foolhardy quest for seventy thousand dollars could prevent an audience from sympathizing with Porter. Thus, by not presenting Porter’s desire for his money as his primary goal, keeping it a matter of principle and not amount, Helgeland better captures the spirit of Stark’s novel.
The first acts of both Parker and Payback are quite similar. Parker begins with Porter crossing a bridge on his way back into the city. The audience is never shown moments in-between his betrayal and his return. Porter takes what he wants-when he sees a panhandler with a hat full of money, the green is fair game.
Helgeland updates the method by which Porter gets an initial bankroll by pickpocketing an easy mark on the street and charging up his Visa card instead of getting cash out of checking accounts by pretending he’s Edward Johnson as Parker did in The Hunter. In the nineties, credit card fraud is the way to go-banks are entirely overprotective of their account holder’s information and cash. However, that is not to say that Parker is set in any particular age-I imagine the anachronistic rotary phones are supposed to place the film in more of a “timeless era” along with the references to President Nixon and cars which Porter and Val drive. If Porter was stuck in a different era then seventy thousand might seem like a good deal of money. Or maybe not...
Likewise, the setting is a bit vague. Porter could be crossing the George Washington Bridge on his way into Manhattan or he could be crossing some bridge around the Chicago metro area. In several of the new shots in Payback, (though the ending doesn’t take place at a train station), we see elevated trains traveling through the city-giving us much more of a sense of Chicago than New York.
When Porter confronts Lynn (Deborah Kara Unger), she asks if he’s going to kill her. Porter doesn’t react to this question, making the silence of his unresponsive visage even more menacing and keeping the audience on their toes. At this point we still don’t know what Porter’s story is or even the identity of this staggering bimbo. It isn’t until Porter takes a shower while this woman overdoses on heroin that we’re shown the two bullet holes in Porter’s back.
Apart from the addition of a voice-over, Porter’s character is softened and the narrative’s impact is lessened in Mel Gibson’s Payback. The film begins with Porter lying prone, two bullet holes in his back, while a less-than-reputable surgeon goes to work on him. Cut from that scene (Porter narrating all along) to him crossing the aforementioned bridge. Back in the city, Porter spies a panhandler begging for change. Now instead of just begging for change, the bum is heard saying, “Help a Viet Nam Vet walk again! Help a cripple!” Porter grabs the cash and the mendicant ruins his ruse by standing up to confront the thieving Porter. Gibson’s Porter has become an enforcer of social justice, as the panhandler is a liar who deserves to be punished.
“You’re cured,” Porter glibly snarls and pushes the beggar to the street. Thus, our first obvious grinning laugh-line has been introduced.
When Lynn asks Porter if he’s going to kill her his reaction is quite different in Payback. Instead of being a minacious blank slate upon which the audience can project their own fears of this silent figure, Porter now gives a sheepish look that indicates a bit of surprise and, gosh darn it, some bruised feelings.
Parker doesn’t get bruised feelings, Mel. He bruises people, and that’s the extent of it if they’re lucky. More often, he mashes people. He pounds people. He gives folks two quick jabs to the gut that leave them gasping for air. In contrast, Mel’s showing us the kinder, gentler Parker/Porter. This Parker/Porter gets flustered when people misunderstand his want of a scant seventy grand. This Parker/Porter sports a grin or even a smile at times. This Parker/Porter can crack jokes after he’s been tortured. In addition, this Parker/Porter makes apologies.
In order to see all of the differences, great and small, between Parker and Payback, I played the DVD of Payback on my television set and the grainy bootleg Parker on the little portable VCR/monitor I liberated from Comcast years ago. Often they synched up rather nicely, just being a second off from one another, making my living room echo like a drive-in. Some of the changes between the two films aren’t all that significant, such as the longer introduction of Pearl (Lucy Alexis Liu) walking to Outfit hotel or extended pawnshop gun-trickery in Parker. Nevertheless, later, the two films take completely different paths.
Parker and Payback have Porter find his dead wife and dissolve to the flashback in which we see the unfolding of the events that had come to pass. Like Point Blank, the heist that Porter commits is done in collaboration with only his wife and Val Resnick (Gregg Henry). In order to return to The Outfit, Val is in need of both his and Porter’s share of the profits of waylaying some Chinese Mafia bagmen.
As with The Hunter, (but not Point Blank), Lynn pulls the trigger on Porter. Instead of threatening her life, though, Val has convinced her by showing Lynn a picture of Porter and a chick. The photo shows nothing more than the couple smiling and acting goofy, but apparently, Lynn is not to be scorned.
After Lynn’s demise, Porter leaves her body on the bed and waits for the delivery boy to arrive. He doesn’t carry just money, though. Rather, he also has some heroin for Mrs. Porter. Again, quite a nineties touch. Porter convinces the lad to reveal that he’s been sent to Casa de Porter by Stegman (David Paymer), a cab operator in Brooklyn.
In The Hunter, when Parker visits Stegman for the first time he interrupts a card game in the back office of the cabstand. Two of the card players are police officers who flash their badges and act tough. In Parker and Payback, it’s craps that the boys in the back room are playing and the two cops at the table, Detectives Hicks (Bill Duke) and Leary (Jack Conley) are given their own subplot in which they learn of Porter’s quest for cash and try to blackmail him out of his seventy thousand dollars.
Val is much more psychotic and brutal than either Mal Reese or Mal Resnick. His sadism is in perfect harmony with his girlfriend, the lovely Pearl. Her character has been changed from a junkie with no dialogue and a scant few mentions in The Hunter to an Asian Dominatrix with a significant role. Pearl is in love with pain, both giving it and receiving it-an odd combination for a Dominant, but no one said that Hollywood knows anything about BDSM (Bondage/Discipline Sado-Masochism).
After Val learns of Porter’s appearance at Stegman’s cabstand, The Outfit’s local sadist breaks bread with the cabbie. In Parker, this scene is extended past their exit from the restaurant. Here we see two of Val’s goons taking Stegman down the street and placing him, teeth first, on a curb while Val steps on the back of his head and gives him the assignment to find Porter.
From outside the restaurant, Payback cuts directly to Porter trying to find a woman named Rosie (Maria Bello)-the woman from the photograph that Val showed to Lynn to help her pull the trigger on her own husband. It turns out that these two have quite a history together. Instead of Porter having lived a life of a professional thief, at some time he was employed as Rosie’s driver-taking the expensive call girl from john to john-quite an emasculating position. (Note that Parker is not a big fan of prostitutes in Stark’s work. In The Handle he says that “whores are for people without resources.”)
As in The Hunter, Porter goes to Rosie to find out where his nemesis is staying. In an extended scene, Parker has Rosie going off to make a call in her bedroom to find the exact suite in which Val is living while Porter checks out her bric-a-brac. Rosie’s dog, also named Porter, begins growling and whimpering at him. “Be careful boy, he might bite you back,” she says, returning to the room. If this line sounds familiar, that’s due to it being left in the film’s preview despite being cut prior to the release of Payback.
She gives Porter the suite number and informs him, “All this time and you didn’t even think to ask how I’ve been.”
To this, Porter doesn’t know what to say. He’s incapable of politeness. He asks, deadpan, “You need any cash or anything?”
Rosie throws a knickknack at him and yells, “Get yourself killed, prick! I ought to tell them you’re coming.”
Parker continues on to the next scene of Porter casing The Outfit hotel. After sneaking in, Porter dispatches a goon during the elevator ride to Val’s room. When Mal wakes up to find Parker in his room, he doesn’t have a whore next to him or Porter’s non-existent sister-in-law, but Pearl whom instantly is aroused by Porter’s power.
In both Parker and Payback, when Porter goes to hit Val, Pearl stops him, insisting that she be allowed the honor of decking her partner. Val doesn’t fall over a balcony, nor does Porter choke the life out of him (or allow Pearl to do it for him). Instead, he lets Val live, demanding his money.
Val goes to see his boss, Mr. Carter (William Devane). This is the scene wherein Parker and Payback begin to diverge significantly. In Parker, the scene is extended in the beginning. We see Val getting frisked by Mr. Carter’s bodyguard. Chickenshit, Val carries three guns. Entering Mr. Carter’s office, Val meets up with Phil (John Glover) who has pulled Val’s file. It’s huge!
“Good read,” Phil tells him, “Nice art too.”
Mr. Carter is much more menacing in Parker than Payback. He tells Val that, “When you go Outfit, you go Outfit all the way. You do not farm your work out to scavengers (meaning Stegman).” Later Mr. Carter asks, “Phillip tells me you have a problem. Is it your problem that poked a man’s eye out last night at the Oakwood?”
In Payback, the scene begins approximately at this point, with the line changed to, “Is it your problem that breached security last night at the Oakwood?” In Payback, Phil isn’t introduced properly until the end of the scene with a close-up. After Val leaves, Phillip and Mr. Carter exchange words. Phil suggests that it might just be easier if Val disappeared.
Carter counters, “I thought about that. I’m not worried about Resnick. He wouldn’t last two minutes out on the street without us. It’s that other mutt I’m thinking about. It takes a lot of moxie to walk into The Outfit and start whacking our guys around. Either that or he’s shit nuts. Frankly, I don’t understand it. I don’t want Mr. Bronson hearing about this. He’ll think I’m getting soft.”
In Parker, this entire exchange does not exist with the aforementioned scene ending when Val leaves Carter’s office. The Payback dialogue introduces Mr. Bronson while downplaying the danger of Val.
In Parker, Val calls Pearl after his meeting with Carter. The conversation is one-sided, the camera remaining on Val as he talks to Pearl, getting flustered when he has to call her Mistress Pearl. He asks if her friends have made it to town.
BDSM is often played for laughs in films and Payback is no exception. When Val calls Pearl, we can hear what sounds like a baby crying in the background. We cut back and forth between Pearl in bondage gear and Val on the street: flustered that he has to wait while she disciplines the submissive she’s got hanging from her ceiling. Here Pearl reveals the identity of the “friends” Val would only allude to in Parker. Being Asian, it seems that Pearl must have connections to the Chows, the gang that Parker and Mal ripped off earlier.
The next scene in which the Chows attack Porter is much more leisurely paced in Parker. Even the two detectives who look on as Porter’s testicles are threatened with a butterfly knife take their time breaking up the fight. “Let’s save a soul,” one of them says before pulling up to scare off the Chows. Departing much slower in Parker, Pearl gives Porter a big smooch before joining her compadres.
Porter returns to Rosie’s apartment for her to tend his wounds. In Parker, the scene is a little longer at the beginning and we see that she’s still pretty ticked off from the last time we saw her, but her attitude changes once she sees the photo of her and Porter. In fact, as the scene wears on, she becomes very affectionate with him but Porter’s obsession with Val prevents him from conjoining with her: his phallic gun limp at his side as he leaves.
As Porter leaves, Val gets off the elevator, unseen by one another. Val proves what a nasty guy he is by putting a bullet in Rosie’s dog and pushing her around a bit. Just as Val threatens to relieve Rosie of her sexual frustration, Porter returns and immediately shoots his betrayer. This quick, brutal act is reminiscent of Stark’s no-nonsense Parker. Remarkably, Gibson doesn’t tone down the violence of this scene, leaving his point blank shooting of Val intact.
The sexuality of Porter and Val is definitely in question in Parker and Payback. Both men act overly aggressive as if to make up for their lacking. The cuckolded Porter has worked for Rosie, watching her interact with other men in the reflection of his rear-view mirror, pining for her. How he went from working for her to being married to Lynn is not explained. Needless to say, their marriage was not ideal or without infidelity.
Porter and Val’s “elevator switch” juxtaposes their ability to interact with Rosie. While Porter has left her high and not necessarily dry, Val assures her that he’s going to fuck her “six ways from Sunday.” Val is impotent when not indulging in his propensity for violence. Thus, Pearl is an ideal mate for him.
The need for such a vampy, campy femme fatale as Pearl is obvious once we’re introduced to Rosie, the blonde-haired hooker with the obligatory heart of gold. Pearl welcomes Val’s sadism, but her aggression, coupled with the feminization of his name, throws his sexuality into doubt.
In Parker, we never see Rosie’s dog again and we should assume that he’s dead. Now, that just won’t do in the idealized Payback where the scene subsequent to Val’s demise begins with Porter carrying the wounded dog into his fleabag apartment hideaway with Rosie close behind.
Almost immediately, his phone begins to ring. “Nobody knows I’m here,” Porter says, confused.
He discovers that his phone has been rigged to a bomb and that the men calling him (including Phil) are outside waiting in their car. Why they took such pains as opposed to sneaking up and simply putting a few bullets in him is beyond me. Porter dispatches them and leaves the telephone-activated bomb undetonated. (Can you say, “foreshadowing”?)
In Parker, the film cuts from Val’s death to Porter paying a visit to Mr. Carter. Carter is not as ready to talk as he is in Payback. After a while he makes the offer to call his boss, Mrs. Bronson, played by the disembodied voice of Angie Dickinson.
In Payback, Carter’s boss is Mr. Bronson, played by the very corporeal Kris Kristofferson. Mr. Bronson painfully takes some time out of his conversation to dish some heavy exposition with his son, Johnny. With no sight of Bronson or Johnny and a heck of a lot less Rosie, the third act of Parker is completely different from Payback.
Between the earlier introduction of a bomb and the exorbitant amount of information gathered by Porter’s telephone call to Bronson, Payback’s course of events is fairly obvious. Porter uses Rosie (somewhat like Walker used Chris) to lure Johnny into a trap where they kidnap him in order to try and gain some leverage against Bronson.
Porter’s visit to Fairfax is more in line with The Hunter than Walker meeting Brewster in Point Blank. The majority of Porter and Fairfax’s conversation remains the same between Parker and Payback but the scene had to be re-shot after Bronson’s gender reassignment. Payback also includes additional moments of levity such as Porter getting flustered by the constant error in sums-he only wants seventy thousand, darn it, not the full one hundred thirty that Val paid The Outfit. Also, Fairfax asks why Porter’s going through such trouble for the small sum: “What is it, the principle of the matter?”
“Stop it, I’m getting misty,” quips Porter in Payback.
“No, I just want my money,” states Porter in Parker.
In Payback, after talking to Mr. Fairfax, Porter is involved in yet another confrontation with the Chows and, inexplicably captured afterwards by Bronson’s goons who engage in the traditional torturing a Mel Gibson character. Though not as gruesome as Braveheart, the hammering of Porter’s toes surpasses Lethal Weapon’s torture scene in terms of the wince factor but at least has more substance than his dunking scene in Conspiracy Theory.
Porter finally gives up the location of Johnny. Bronson, Fairfax, and the hammer-wielding thug throw Porter in the trunk of their car and make their way to Porter’s apartment wherein we begin the now classic Silence of the Lambs cross-cutting between Porter trying to escape the trunk with the film’s antagonists making their way to the apartment door and with Rosie and her dog watching over Johnny. Of course, Rosie and Johnny are nowhere near the apartment when Porter calls his old place, setting off the bomb under his bed when Bronson picks up the phone. In fact, I really don’t know where Rosie is located when Porter pulls up to retrieve her.
Porter, though a little worse for wear, gets the money (plus 50K above his 70K asking price) and the girl. “Just drive, baby,” he says to her as they pull off. In contrast, Parker offers up an ending that is not only bleaker than the saccharine conclusion of Payback, but also far less hopeful than The Hunter and its exciting dénouement.
After his third, and final, interaction with the Chows, Porter is not kidnapped by Mrs. Bronson. Rather, he runs off and gets in a panel truck that serves as a cold storage compartment for some of the goons that he dispatches at the train station while awaiting the arrival of a man with a blue, cash-laden backpack. Rosie (sans canine) helps Porter out a bit by watching over Mrs. Bronson’s henchmen while they wait in the truck as Porter locates the rest of the gun-toting group who stand between him and his money.
The operation doesn’t go nearly as smooth as it does in The Hunter for Porter doesn’t take notice of a very obvious assassin. The reason for this misjudgment appears to derive solely from the fact that the person who manages to plug Porter is a woman. As with his wife, he doesn’t see this woman as a threat and again pays dearly for this mistake.
After taking a slug to the chest, a gunfight breaks out and Porter narrowly escapes. Oddly, it’s this scene of Porter stumbling down the steps from the platform that became the image used in all of Payback’s promotional material. A look at the poster or video box reveals a flight of stairs behind Porter who’s squaring off to put a few bullets through the car that holds the very-much-still-alive Phil (who met his demise earlier in Payback).
Porter slumps to the ground, his back against a parking meter as a bum wheels down the sidewalk and asks for the blue backpack which may or may not hold seventy or more thousand dollars. Bleeding and semi-conscious, Porter begins thinking back on the events that have brought him to this point.
The camera tracks from left to right while simultaneously panning from right to left, creating an odd spatial effect. We cut from this single shot to images from earlier in the film, juxtaposed with sound bytes. Done with such a steady rhythm, it’s not entirely obvious when these older shots become replaced with current action as Rosie pulls up and tries to wake Porter from his daze. This is a wonderful bit of filmmaking.
To the sound of sirens, Rosie gets Porter into her car and they drive off. Cut to Rosie driving while the wounded Porter sits next to her on the front seat of her car. “I’ve got to get you to a hospital,” she says.
“No, I know a guy,” Porter croaks.
“Is he a doctor?”
“Tell me where. Tell me where to go,” she pleads.
This brings us back to the last spoken line in Payback, “Just drive, baby,” he says and, despite his wounds, grins. Worse for wear, he doesn’t have the money, but he’s got the girl. The camera pulls back and we see that Rosie’s driving Porter across the bridge he walked in on. Cue Dean Martin’s “Ain’t that a kick in the head” and fade in the end credits.
Having three disparate takes on Stark’s The Hunter begs the question; which one is better? Not to take the easy way out, but each of them has their merits. Point Blank is a highly enjoyable watch-the acting from Lee Marvin, John Vernon, Carroll O’Connor, and even Angie Dickinson is second-to-none. Boorman’s mod, experimental filmmaking is appropriate for Stark’s offbeat narrative and unusual protagonist. Though Walker’s unflinching devotion to his money keeps his character at a distance from the audience, we still sympathize with him and revel in his violence towards those he sees as having wronged him. Crossing the best parts of his brutal thug from White Heat and his money-hungry gangster from The Killers, Marvin’s Walker stands as one of his best roles.
While Porter may share Walker’s drive to regain his lost cash in Payback, he manages to snag much more. He is a winner. He’s got the Rosie (who is said to be giving up her life as a prostitute), the money, and has rid himself of the immediate threat of retribution by killing Fairfax and Bronson. He’s in the clear. Yet, Porter’s intense search for monetary restitution overshadows any other need for retribution-personal or professional.
While seventy thousand dollars is a fair amount of money, it becomes a punchline for Payback. Everyone is incredulous of his desire for what is seen as a paltry sum-including the audience. Though I wouldn’t mind an extra seventy grand, I’d not risk my neck taking on the mob for it, nor would I encourage anyone else to do so. Thus, identification with the rakish Porter is only gained through his glib retorts (“I got hammered”) and winks to the camera, as if he were assuring the audience, “It’s okay, it’s really me, ole lovable Mel!” Gibson certainly never got lost in his role. Or, if he did, he wanted to find his way out of it and throw an affable lacquer over Porter.
Looking at Helgeland’s Porter and Gibson’s cleaned-up Porter is like comparing the Mad Max he played in The Road Warrior to what he became in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. From a “burnt out shell of a man” to a guy who’s going out on a limb for a bunch of kooky kids, the chasm between the two is so vast that he’s nearly unrecognizable.
That is not to say that Parker is not without its flaws. Instead of being merely businesslike, Angie Dickinson’s line readings are flat and unemotional. When the story departs from Stark’s original work, the film falters. The use of Asian characters as villains and sexual deviants is inappropriate and offensive. While Helgeland may be indulging in a time held film noir tradition of using Asians as “the other”assigning characteristics of mystery and veiled perversity to this ethnic group-recalling such films as The Big Sleep, Chinatown, The Phantom Menace, and Lethal Weapon 4, it’s time that this stereotype be laid to rest.
Yet, in Helgeland’s Parker, the audience can better identify with Porter for being a man betrayed by his wife and partner and not for his blind ambition of collecting what he’s due. As he lies in Rosie’s car, bleeding, we realize that he’s better off than if he had gotten his money. He’s regained a bit of his humanity and, whether he was aware of it or not, that is what Val and Lynn took from him-they made him a dead man in a figurative sense. His wounds and his interaction with the world have helped resurrect his spirit, allowing him to go on with his life and, perhaps, to reinvent himself as a better thief with a better understanding of himself.
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