Movies We Like
Blast of Silence
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. (DVD: Criterion)