BLAST OF SILENCE (Criterion, 1961) D: Allen Baron, w/ Baron, Molly McCarthy. Rating: NNN; DVD package: NNN
Film noir doesn’t get any bleaker than this. Contract killer Frankie Bono arrives in Manhattan to murder a mid-level mobster. Things go wrong.
This stripped-down story powers off from a hardboiled second-person voice-over penned by a pseudonymous Waldo Salt (Midnight Cowboy) and read by an uncredited Lionel Stander, both blacklist victims. Stander’s world-weary tone provides a perfect complement to Salt’s cold words, and an equally ideal contrast when those words charge right over the top.
Director Allen Baron stepped into the role when Peter Falk bowed out to take a paying gig (Murder Incorporated, which launched his career). Baron isn’t a very good actor, but his stiffness and slab-of-meat face work well for the character, a bone-deep hater of humanity who’s slowly going insane from his self-imposed isolation. Opposite Baron, Larry Tucker as gun dealer Big Ralph creates one of the screen’s all-time great slimeballs, a man so vile you may feel the need to shower after his scenes.
The action goes down on the streets of Manhattan at a time when New York location work was almost non-existent. We’re up in Harlem, where Frankie remarks on the race hatred, down in the Village, out by Jamaica Bay. Everywhere, Baron’s hidden camera catches the city’s paranoid edge.
Baron, who went on to a career directing series TV, does a good walking tour of the locations and offers detailed memories of the shoot in the making-of doc. Critic Terrence Rafferty offers a solid appreciation in the accompanying booklet. Sean Phillips’s four-page graphic novel adds little, though. It’s a mere fragment from the film’s opening.
EXTRAS Making-of doc, on-set Polaroids, then-and-now locations comparison, essay, graphic novel fragment. Full-frame, b&w.