BLAST OF SILENCE (1961) really took me by surprise from the opening shot. It’s a very bleak thriller that takes you on a first-hand journey with Frankie Bono, a hired killer from Cleveland who is brought to New York City around Christmas time to make a hit on a gangster. We see how he sets about finding a weapon, tracking down the target and picking the perfect spot for the final act. He’s not one for company, and tries to do as little with anyone as possible. Of those we do see him interact with, notable standouts include Larry Tucker as Big Ralph, a fat and seedy gun dealer looking to make an extra buck (he’s great) and Peter Clune as Troiano, the gangster target. Lionel Stander does a superior job of narrating the tale in a hard-bitten grizzled voice, it really makes this film sing and gets the viewer into the mindset of the film and its protagonist.
Allen Baron wrote and directed the film, and also stars as Mr. Bono. In the included documentary Mr. Baron admits he wasn’t his first choice to star (Peter Falk was offered the part and nearly took it), but given their extremely limited budget ($20,000!) it was more of an economic decision than anything else. He looks right in the part, but as an actor he’s rather wooden. I can go only so far in saying this is appropriate for the part of a contract killer, existensialism doesn’t excuse a dull performance! However, Mr. Baron more than makes up for this with his wonderfully visual storytelling, utilizing many real life locations throughout New York and Long Island to great effect. Long shots, wide vistas, stark black and white imagery all contribute mightily to the overall feel of resignation and doom.
On its original release this film was considered to be a masterpiece by some critics, and Mr. Baron was even compared to Orson Welles. Sadly this was not enough to propel him into a long feature career, though he did make a notable name for himself in television production for several decades. The film was re-released in 2008 by Criterion, which brought it back on the map. It’s certainly a worthwhile film to watch for its visuals and excellent storytelling. It’s rough around the edges, but that only gives it more authenticity and grit. Recommended!
Viewed on June 26th, 2012 on DVD (Criterion) in Somerville NJ