Directed by Allen Baron
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 77 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 English
MSRP: $ 29.95
Release Date: April 15, 2008
Review Date: April 12, 2008
Allen Baron’s Blast of Silence is a tough, gritty little noir that’s being rediscovered after being mostly ignored for more than forty years. Truth to tell, though the film is lean and mean, it’s neither acted, directed, nor written with any great élan. Compared nowadays to Godard’s Breathless with its guerilla filmmaking on the city streets (here in New York rather than in Paris), Blast of Silence isn’t really in the same league. Its story of mugs and gangsters might in retrospect seem stark and uncompromising compared to the sentimentalization they received in The Godfather films, but it’s still a meager story that doesn’t do great things with its backdrop of period New York locations.
Baron’s script for Blast of Silence spends one week in the life of a Cleveland hitman (Allen Baron). He’s in New York during the Christmas/New Years season to murder a mob boss named Troiano (Peter H. Clune). So we spend six days as he gets his assignment, arranges for an untraceable weapon, trails his victim to see his habits, cases the victim’s apartment and building to route his escape, prepares his weapon for the job, goes through with his assignment, and makes his getaway. Along the way he’s reintroduced to an old flame (Molly McCarthy) who with the season celebrations and all the reminiscing stirs the first emotional feelings within him in decades, feelings that lead to his hoping to get out of the business and start a life with someone special to share it. Ah, but such feelings also distract from the job at hand, and, naturally, off his game by the distraction, mistakes are made.
Since so much of the street photography was obviously shot silent, Baron has added a narrator (spoken by the unbilled Lionel Stander) who functions as a kind of running stream of consciousness for the hitman. Though written by later Oscar-winner Waldo Salt (under the pseudonym Mel Davenport), the commentary is a bit pretentious though Baron’s not a strong enough actor to convey great emotion through just body language and facial expression and probably felt this was needed to convey the emotions the character was feeling. In fact, acting across the board is the film’s weakest element with no one particularly charismatic (Larry Tucker as Big Ralph, the gun procurer, comes closest to giving a convincing performance) and some vocal performances obviously dubbed by others in post production.
Baron does stage some neat shots in and around New York locations in 1960. There are views of Greenwich Village and its night spots, Harlem streets, and the skyline from the East River that are very atmospheric and aid greatly in establishing the times of the story. There’s a great shot of rats in cages shown in silhouette that the camera doesn’t linger on (but should have stressing symbolically the human vermin the film is dealing with and who are all trapped in their criminal ways). The film’s three murders are all done with an in-your-face style that must have shocked audiences at the time, and they‘re still effective. Less well executed are a couple of encounters between hitman Frank and his former girl friend Lori which are awkwardly staged and not well acted by the players involved, particularly a morning-after scene that’s meant to be poignant and is instead almost laughable.
But Blast of Silence does contain the germs of a neat little story. Hitmen weren’t the focus of many films in that era, and chances are this could have evolved into a really intriguing plot had Baron gotten some help from a creative author to aid him in avoiding the clichés that mar some of the story and who could have especially beefed up the rudimentary conclusion. Though it ends with the same ironic tone as Breathless, it admittedly lacks that film’s astonishing performances, creative camerawork, and an overall zippy style.
The film’s 1.33:1 aspect ratio is delivered in a fairly good transfer to DVD. There are source problems to be sure with murky contrast alternating with sharp, striking photographic images (made on a budget of $20,000, the erratic nature of the visual elements isn’t surprising). There are white scratches that show up off and on throughout the film, never for very long but always distracting. When everything’s just right, the grayscale is very impressive with deep blacks and fine shadow detail, but this is not the way much of the picture looks. The film is divided into 15 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is much better than I was expecting for such a low budget effort. Yes, the dubbing is very obvious with changes in voice levels and ambient noise, but there is no hiss or other audible artifacts to distract from the listening experience nor is there distortion from either speaking or music. Several songs punctuate the soundtrack, and they’re well recorded, particularly the “Dressed in Black” conga number.
“Requiem for a Killer: The Making of Blast of Silence” is an effective one hour documentary featuring footage of star-director-writer Allen Baron shot in both 1990 by Wilfried Reichart and in 2006 by Robert Fischer and combined to make an extended tour of New York City locations used for shooting the movie alternating footage from the film with shots of then-present day New York. Baron attempts to ad-lib some philosophical ruminations about his experience making the film, but he often runs out of thoughts and has to exit the shot. Still, it’s great fun seeing him return to locations and talk about how they scraped the picture together from a variety of sources pretty much on the fly. It’s presented in 4:3 to match the footage of the original film.
“Locations Revisited 2008” is a series of stills shot in 2008 of the same locations and compared to stills from the 1961 movie. The viewer can step through the section with his remote to view each image.
The disc offers 39 Polaroid pictures taken on the set of actors and locations, some with notations by director Baron. The viewer can again step through each of the pictures with his remote. The pictures in some cases are much the worse for wear but are still interesting looks at the actors working or relaxing.
The film’s original theatrical trailer runs 1¾ minutes and is presented in 4:3.
The set includes two supplementary booklets. The usual Criterion booklet is 10 pages and offers a glowing critique of the film by film critic Terrence Rafferty. The other 4-page booklet is a graphic novel representation of the film’s first half by illustrator Sean Phillips.
Not a great lost noir masterpiece, Blast of Silence is still an entertaining little film if one goes into it without great expectations.