Chris Morris 05/07/2008
If Albert Camus had made a film noir, it would have been very much like Allen Baron’s little-seen 1961 feature Blast of Silence. This low-budget jewel, which enjoyed a critical renaissance after a 1990 screening at the Munich Film Festival, is less a thriller than it is an existential exploration. In many ways, it anticipated Martin Scorsese’s equally dark New York drama Taxi Driver by a decade.
Writer-director Baron had originally cast Peter Falk as hit man Frankie Bono, but wound up playing the part himself after Falk took his career-making role in Murder Inc. Resembling a less feral George C. Scott, Baron is extremely effective as the solitary, dead-eyed assassin, who arrives in New York City at Christmastime to eliminate a troublesome small-time mobster. After a chance meeting, the lonely, embittered killer is drawn to a girl from his past (Molly McCarthy). But he still has a contract to fulfill, and his world begins to unravel as he stalks his prey.
Baron was a visual artist before coming to the movies, and he and cinematographer Merrill Brody bring a painter’s sensibility to locations in Harlem and Greenwich Village, and to such familiar landmarks as Penn Station and Rockefeller Center. The understated work of the cast, highlighted by Larry Tucker (“Pagliacci” in Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor) as a repulsive gun dealer, is brilliantly complemented by narration (written by Mel Davenport and delivered by the uncredited, gravel-voiced Lionel Stander) that gets inside Bono’s seething head.
This taut 77-minute picture is an unsettling experience: The viewer begins to sympathize with the alienation of its murderous protagonist. Subtly constructed and beautifully shot, Blast of Silence is a one-of-a-kind noir that amply justifies its considerable latter-day reputation.
Swift, brutal, and black-hearted, Allen Baron’s New York City noir Blast of Silence is a sensational surprise. This low-budget, carefully crafted portrait of a hit man on assignment in Manhattan during Christmastime follows its stripped-down narrative with mechanical precision, yet also with an eye and ear for the oddball idiosyncrasies of urban living and the imposing beauty of the city. At once visually ragged and artfully composed, and featuring rough, poetic narration performed by Lionel Stander, Blast of Silence is a stylish triumph.
- Starring: Allen Baron, Peter H. Clune, Molly McCarthy, Larry Tucker, Danny Meehan
- Format: Black & White, Dolby, DVD, NTSC
- Language: English
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Number of Discs: 1
- Rating: Not Rated
- Label: The Criterion Collection
- Release Date: 04/15/2008
- Run Time: 77 minutes
- Catalogue #: 428
- Requiem for a Killer: The Making of “Blast of Silence”
- Rare on-set Polaroids
- Locations revisited in 2008
- PLUS A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty and a four-page graphic-novel adaptation of the film by acclaimed artist Sean Phillips (Criminal, Sleeper, Marvel Zombies)