Blast of Silence, an extremely well–regarded film noir from 1961, doesn’t really have any recognizable stars. The movie was written and directed by Allen Baron, who went on to make a mark, of sorts, as a TV director of such shows as The Love Boat and Charlie’s Angels.
The reason for Blast of Silence’s classic status is its style — stark, moody and shot in high–contrast black and white — is that it’s a 21–gun salute to nihilism. The central character in the movie simply hates people. He hates his life. He hates everything.
In the dawning days of the 1960s, with John F. Kennedy and his all–pervasive Camelot smile, Hollywood had all but ceased making dark pictures like this.
There are elements of Little Caesar, Public Enemy and even Key Largo in its narrative about gangsters and low–lifes walking the dirty streets of Harlem. It has a gritty, unwholesome, documentary feel.
But Blast of Silence, ultimately, is a forerunner of The Godfather.
It screens Jan. 27 as part of the Psychotronic Film Festival.
Baron himself plays Frankie Bono, a hired killer from Cleveland who’s come to New York on a contract. The hit: A sleazy low–level mobster named Troiano, who’s shaking down local businesses and getting in the way of the big boys who’ve hired Frankie to take him out.
The film follows Frankie as he stalks his prey, learning his habits (he must find Troiano alone, without his omnipresent bodyguards) and through the final showdown.
In an unusual but effective move, Baron chose to use an unseen narrator to tell us what’s in Frankie’s mind as he plans the hit. The voice is that of Lionel Stander, a veteran Noo Yawk character actor best known for his long stint as the irascible chauffer on TV’s Hart to Hart. As the hired killer’s conscience, Stander delivers his lines in a gruff, matter–of–fact and black-hearted manner that beautifully underscores Frankie’s soullessness.
The thing is, Frankie does have a soul, and when he unexpectedly runs into an old girlfriend, it begins to show itself. He grew up in a Catholic orphanage, and has never had a family or a “real” life – could sweet, trusting Lori be his ticket out of the dank hell he’s created for himself?
Don’t bet on it, pal.
The creepiest scene brings Frankie to the filthy apartment of Ralphie, an obese, bearded man in a bathrobe who keeps a menagerie of rats in cages.
He’s the Peter Lorre character – wily and odd, unsettling, you wonder is he trustworthy?
Frankie needs Ralphie to get him a gun, so, the hitman ignores the inner monologue that despises the fat man, and wants to put him down for good, and makes uncomfortable small talk with him.
The events of Blast of Silence take place at Christmastime. Stander–as–Frankie discourses on how much he hates the holiday — but this gives filmmaker Baron the opportunity to juxtapose images of gangsters oozing down sidewalks as a children’s chorus sings carols in the background.
It’s a chilling effect, and one of the many small pleasures of Blast of Silence.
Don’t expect first–rate acting from this low–budget drama; Baron is stiff, his delivery wooden (which works just fine for the character, in a weird way), and the other actors barely register.
It’s the cumulative effect of the subject matter, the cinematography and the pervasive nihilistic mood that make Blast of Silence a noir to remember.
Psychotronic Film Festival
Blast of Silence
Where: Muse Arts Warehouse, 703D Louisville Road
When: At 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27
Tickets: $9 at Muse Arts and at psychotronicfilmsavannah.org