Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Revisit: Blast of Silence

A Magla Production 1961

Directed by: Allen Baron

Written by: Allen Baron (writer), Waldo Salt (narration written by)

Having been 'away' for some time professional killer Frankie Bono returns to New York to do another job: assassinate some mid-level mobster. Although intending to avoid unnecessary 'contact' while carefully stalking his victim Bono is recognized by an old fellow from the orphanage, whose calm and unambitious citizen's life and happy marriage contrast heavily with Bono's solitary and haunted existence. Exhausted and distracted Bono makes another mistake, but his contract is not one to back out of.

Though film-noir was a relatively dead genre by 1960, this film by Allen Baron is often cited as a classic example of the genre. Not a revisionist work like, say, Cassavete's Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Blast of Silence relies on more traditional noir elements to resounding effect.

Voice-Over narration, written by then black-listed writer Waldo Salt (Midnight Cowboy), provides the meat of the story. While the film is famed for this narration, and it is a tradition of the genre, I found it particularly distracting. I'll admit there's a handful of lines in there that are absolute gold ("Pay for the woman, and take her to a dark corner -- where no one can see your face"), it's pretty unnecessary.

Why? Because Baron - a first time director - gets the most out of his camera and his actors. Baron himself plays the lead, the unraveling hitman, to startling effect. Larry Tucker (most well know as the writer partner of Paul Mazursky) gives a commanding and incredibly enjoyable performance as Big Ralph, an overweight seedy gun salesman. But most impressive is Baron's camera, which captures some amazing shots of New York City. The film is downright gorgeous. And it tells us everything we need to know - without the VO.

Criterion recently put out a great remastered version of this flick, which Martin Scorsese often cites as his favorite New York City film. If you're a fan of the genre, this is a must see. And at a mere 77 minutes, it's a swift, easy watch.

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