- Rated NR
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Bob Westal
last of Silence” isn’t that great of a movie. At its best, however, this unusual thriller, both behind and well ahead of its time, is effective, innovative, influential and memorable enough that the “lost masterpiece” talk the film generates actually makes some sense.
This independently made barely post-noir thriller attempts to get us inside the head of Frank Bono (writer-director Allen Baron), a hit man who fancies himself a cold, skilled professional. Sent from Cleveland to New York to provide a mid-level mafia manager with his permanent pink slip over the Christmas holidays, Frank’s attempts to live an emotion-free life are foiled, first by a needy arms dealer (Larry Tucker), and then much, much more powerfully, by a chance reunion with Lorrie (Molly McCarthy), a pretty friend from his pre-crime childhood. What follows is an intriguing look at a man caught between the emotionless monster he is today and the more decent person he once was. And, oh yeah, he has to kill some people.
As critic Terrence Rafferty points out in a supplemental booklet, “Blast of Silence” is both an extremely late example of post WWII film noir and a contemporary of such early, European-influenced “American Independent” films as John Cassavettes’ “Shadows.” It is also the first entry that I know of in the still robust subgenre of films made from the point of view of criminal assassins. Echoes of “Blast of Silence” can be seen in a host of more famous cult films that followed, including John Boorman’s “Point Blank,” Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samourai,” possibly John Woo’s “The Killer” and definitely the action-packed John Cusack/Minnie Driver black comedy “Grosse Pointe Blank,” which can easily be seen as the sunny flip-side of “Blast of Silence.”
Still, taken on its own, Alan Baron’s film is as mixed as bags get. The film is largely dominated by a very unusual second-person narration attempting to identify the audience with the hit man (antiheroes this nasty were still quite a movie novelty in 1962). Written under a pseudonym by blacklisted screenwriter Waldo Salt (“Serpico,” “Midnight Cowboy”) and delivered by uncredited, blacklisted gravel-voiced character actor Lionel Stander (“Hart to Hart” and a gazillion film classics), some of this narration is quite brilliant and shocking. However, it is also excessive, often annoying, and an obvious crutch for dramatically weak moments. The story itself lurches from gorgeous but strikingly shot low-tension scenes, to some wrenching encounters where we begin to see the more fragile side of Frank Bono. In the lead role, Allen Baron (who is replacing the originally cast Peter Falk, who left when he got an early, paying gig) is less than ideal, but, a native Brooklynite, he does bring a guy-from-the-street humanity to sit well in the role. Supporting players Molly McCarthy and Larry Tucker deliver memorable performances. In one scene, involving an attempted ax-murder, it is also remarkably violent and bloody for 1961.
The cinematography by Merrill S. Brody is outstanding, and Allen Baron’s background as a cartoonist pays off in his striking visual acuity. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of “Blast of Silence,” it’s clear that Baron had real talent. The unfortunate part of the off-screen story is that he got little chance to show what he could do. Despite making two other features that are now well and truly lost, he spent most of his career directing hundreds of episodes of television shows like “Love American Style,” “Barnaby Jones” and on a good day “Kolchak: The Night Stalker.” Nevertheless, Baron, now an artist, seems to enjoy his status as the creator of an interesting film that, at the very least, spawned a lot of other interesting films, and that’s not nothing.
Criterion Collection DVD Review:
As usual with a film from the Criterion Collection, the picture and sound are as good as could possibly be hoped for in this digital restoration of the 1961 film. For back-story, there’s an overlong but informative documentary (really a rambling interview with Baron escorting us around the film’s NYC locations mostly shot for a prior German television documentary in 1990). There are also some fascinating photographs contrasting the New York locations between 1961 and 2008 (one location currently sports an ironic billboard for an extremely distant “Blast of Silence” relative, the video-game based bomb “Hitman”). Some nifty onset Polaroids are also included.
A supplemental booklet features a well-written remembrance by high-class film critic Terrence Rafferty. The package also includes a gritty four-page comic book adaptation by Sean Phillips, which does a nice job of taking some moments from “Blast of Silence” back to their graphic roots.