Blast of Silence is a 1961 noir film written, directed, and starring Allen Baron. There are a few things that set the movie apart from other noir films, but the most obvious one is that the setting is New York City during the week of Christmas. Therefore, every dark deed and double cross is set against the backdrop of Christmas lights and holiday cheer. Also, because this film comes a little after the accepted “heyday” of noir (most of the people who study things like this agree that the cycle ended in 1958 with A Touch of Evil), the aesthetic is just a little different than what we’re used to seeing in a hardboiled crime noir.
Frank Bono is a contract killer who has arrived in New York from Cleveland to rub somebody out. The film plays out almost in documentary style, with us following Frank through his dirty deeds. He stalks his prey and learns his patterns, but along the way he meets someone he grew up with in an orphanage years ago and gets sidetracked when he sees the direction his life could have taken. The film might as well be subtitled “A Day in the Life of a Hitman” because that’s essentially what it depicts. Shot in a gritty, realistic style that owes much to shows like Dragnet--or better yet, The Naked City, Blast of Silence isn’t afraid to show the seedy underbelly of the criminal world. Through it all, there’s a constant narration which may or may not be Frank’s conscience, or perhaps his lack thereof. It’s through this narration that we learn who Frank really is underneath it all, and how empty of humanity he actually is.
Because the film was made in 1961, there’s a jazzy, beatnik undercurrent that permeates the whole production. The guys wear fedoras and trench coats, but the music of bongos is in the air. It’s more Mad Men than Out of the Past, and style is definitely a key component in this movie’s success. The sixties had arrived and everything was starting to take on that futuristic look; the cars are angular and sleek, and there’s revolution under the surface. Maybe that’s why the movie seems to be completely comfortable taking on Christmas as a commercial holiday with no substance. “You hate Christmas so much, you can’t stand the thought of sweating it out alone in some crummy hotel room,” the narrator tells Frank as he wanders Rockefeller Center, the gigantic Christmas tree looming threateningly in the background. A distant choir sings carols that have never sounded so ominous. The choice to film in stark (but beautiful) black and white in a time when color was becoming the norm also adds to the bleakness.
The themes somehow seem just as fresh and relevant now as they did in 1961 (perhaps even more so), and I appreciate that the film succeeds at getting inside a character’s head and showing such unrelenting darkness. It’s so rare for a movie from the classic era to allow itself to be so bleak without at least a hint at light. But this was an independent production, apparently shot in the guerilla style, and it’s anything but conventional. Any shortcomings in Allen Baron’s performance are more than made up for by his story and his efficient direction.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays, ya mugs.