Turner Classic Movies
Blast of Silence DVD
Written by A.J. Hakari   

blast-of-silenceposter200.jpgLonely is the life of an assassin. In this profession, one spends much time simply waiting, planning, and shedding one's self of any emotional contact so as not to be shaken off of doing the job. More often than not, movies ditch this introspective take on contract killers, instead offering them up as either hard-nosed anti-heroes or target practice for James Bond types. But 1961's Blast of Silence, in which Allen Baron serves as director, screenwriter, and star, actually takes the time to look at its story from this perspective, incorporating a noirish atmosphere that, despite a very noticeable streak of predictability, helps make this a genre gem worth checking out.

Baron plays Frankie Bono, a stoic hitman who's blown back into New York City during Christmas for a big job. His latest assignment: take down a gangster named Troiano (Peter H. Clune). It seems simple enough, yet the days to follow help make it anything but an easy kill to pull off. In addition to having to work with a slovenly arms dealer (Larry Tucker), Frankie is re-introduced to former crush of his, Lori (Molly McCarthy).

Frankie tries his hardest to keep his mind on the job, tailing Troiano across town and slowly learning his routine before moving in for the big kill. But the more he's pulled into Lori's world, the more he gets into trouble with the employers who want the mobster's death to go off without a hitch.

blastsilencescene2-200.jpgIf one looks at Blast of Silence as a straightforward film noir, it can come across as a little irritating and repetitive. The narration, an old noir standby, is virtually omnipresent, to the point that it almost feels overdone and way too intrusive at times. But it's important to realize that the narration (written by Waldo Salt, under the pseudonym "Mel Davenport") isn't just there because other movies of its kind have included it too; rather, you can almost see it as a way to poke fun at such genre conventions.

It's all best seen as Frankie's way of making it through the day, talking to himself (with not his own voice but that of an uncredited Lionel Stander) in order to spice up the mototony of his work. Frankie isn't the sort of contract killer whose entire life is a buffet of bullets, the kind of action movie stereotype that goes through life with all guns blazing. He comes across as a very detached soul, someone who's grown up virtually in solitude and has found no other choice but to work in such a state as well. When Lori comes into his life, the effect she has isn't so much like a gentle breeze as it is a hurricane that threatens to rock Frankie's very foundation.

blast_of_silence200.jpgThis is all well and good, as I appreciate Blast of Silence for fleshing out what could have been a painfully one-dimensional part. But as the case was with the recent crime drama Street Kings, the lead character is someone who greatly outshines the actor filling his shoes. That's not to say that Baron is a performer on par with Keanu Reeves, but although he does capture Frankie's uneasy demeanor at times, the performance as a whole doesn't quite measure up to the state of conflict that the character exists with.

The rest of the cast fares well enough, although no one really gets an outstanding role; Baron makes sure that Blast of Silence turns out to be Frankie's show. McCarthy was a sweet enough face as the girl who just might be able to break through Frankie's tortured exterior, and Tucker gives a real character actor's performance as a guy more interested in showing Frankie his pet rats than in giving him a gun. And while he's not that hot as an actor, Baron earns some real pluses as a filmmaker for giving the picture a real "you are there" atmosphere with its location shots and close-quartered sets.

Blast of Silence arrives as the latest addition to the Criterion Collection, an organization dedicated to, according to their website, giving "exemplary" films of their kind the royal treatment on DVD. This picture may not be the finest that film noir has to offer, but at least the big boost of exposure that Criterion his blessed it with will raise awareness and ensure film buffs that this ditty is definitely worth a watch.

Director: Allen Baron

Writer: Allen Baron (narration by Mel Davenport)

Cast: Allen Baron, Molly McCarthy, Larry Tucker, Peter H. Clune, Danny Meehan

Rating: No MPAA Rating (some violence)

Classic Movie Guide Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Run Time: 77 minutes

Studio: Criterion Collection, DVD, original, Universal Pictures

DVD Release Date: 4/15/2008

Format: Black-and-white, fullscreen




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