Blast of Silence (1961) Allen Baron
Criterion DVD – interlibrary loan
Director and star Allen Baron has spent most of his career directing television, mostly from the 70s and 80s. I’m not sure how he ever got Blast of Silence made, but I can’t wait to watch Requiem for a Killer: The Making of “Blast of Silence, one of the extras on the Criterion DVD, to find out. It’s one of those movies that seems like it was probably an uphill battle to make, but regardless of the hardships involved, it was all worth it.
Baron plays Frank Bond, a hit man from Cleveland who travels to New York to knock off a mid-level mob boss, a job he really doesn’t want to do. Despite the Christmastime setting, every scene exudes bleak depression. Add to this the fact that Lionel Stander, the greatest gravel-voice of all time, narrates the entire film as if he’s the angel/devil on Frank’s shoulder.
In some ways, Blast of Silence is a sort of reverse noir. By that I mean that many film noir protagonists are ordinary guys who aren’t really criminals, but are led, forced, coerced or into a life of crime. Frank is a criminal by profession, one who would like to live a normal life, but can’t.
One of the many pleasures of Blast of Silence is the juxtaposition of bleakness mixed with dark humor. When Frank goes to meet Big Ralph, a fence who’s going to set up Frank with a gun and silencer, you can’t help but laugh. Big Ralph’s apartment might just take the prize for the dingiest, most disgusting apartment in film history up to that time. And Big Ralph (certainly living up to his name) is quite a piece of work himself.
As Frank gears himself up to carry out the hit, he runs into one of his old friends from the neighborhood who invites him to a Christmas party. Wanting only to live in isolation (although he’s as miserable alone as he is with people), Frank reluctantly goes to the party, meets a girl (Molly McCarthy, above)… Maybe there’s hope…
Perhaps the film’s best scene occurs at a nightclub where Frank scopes out his mark, a man named Troiano (Peter Clune) who’s having a party. Stander introduces every via voiceover: “Troiano and his high-priced dame, and Ralphie and his rats – two of a kind. And the conga drum beating your head ’til you taste the heat on your tongue.”
The band playing at the club is the perfect irritant for Frank. A guy (Dean Sheldon) slapping a conga drum, sings a song with these profound lyrics:
Another guy, his name was Lou
Stabbed my baby and killed himself, too
It broke my heart I must confess
I’m dressed in black all the time
Later, after flashing images of Troiano kissing his girl’s neck, the frenzied shots of the band, and Big Ralph arm-wrestling two guys at once, the singer launches into a song called “Torrid Town,” a tune that’s so bad, yet perfect for this film. The entire nightclub scene is both hilarious and depressing. I don’t know if Baron intended the scene (and several others in the film) to be this comedic, but I was in stitches.
Blast of Silence offers few surprises in its ending, but it really doesn’t matter. The fact that the film exists at all is quite a wonder. I’d love to know the budget on this movie. It couldn’t have been much, I’m guessing way below $100,000. I’m not sure how long it was in the theaters (Again, this information is probably on one of the DVD extras) or how much money it made, but if you’re a film noir fan, none of that will matter. The more you think about what separates the film’s beginning from its ending, the more you realize that Blast of Silence has quite a lot to say about the fundamental, down-and-dirty nature of film noir.
Photos: The Movie Gourmet, Film Trip, Dizzy Den Films, Past Posters