A forgotten film that was far, far better than it should have been considering its humble production values.
If you watch Blast of Silence, I strongly recommend you watch the accompanying making of featurette featuring Allen Baron reminiscing decades later about the film. This is because it really helps you appreciate how good the movie is. After all, although the film looks very professionally made, it was assembled with a shoestring budget. In fact, the budget was so tiny that the writer/director, Baron, was forced to act in the lead. This is pretty funny, as he was just perfect in this role–yet this was only his second (and last) acting credit! I would really love it if young filmmakers today watched BOTH to get an idea of economy in filmmaking and that you don’t need huge budgets nor big names to make a decent film. Plus, the film is a wonderful crime film—told without sentiment and a stronger than normal sense of realism for the time it was made.
As for Blast of Silence, it’s a wonderful noir-like film. I say ‘noir-like’ because it’s a lot less like an American film noir picture and more like one of the next generation that including the French noir films. In many ways, this film is comparable to those of directors like Melville–very compactly told, realistic and with little in the way of filler or remorse. Additionally, I kept thinking to myself that Allen Baron sure bore a strong similarity to one of my favorite gangster actors, Lino Ventura–the look and the style were clearly similar. Both men was rather non-descript compared to Hollywood actors and had an amazing coldness about their performances.
The story is simple. A very professional assassin named Frank Bono (Allen) is in New York to make a hit for the mob. However, he’s got a few days to kill during the Christmas season. This, along with a betrayal by one of his ‘associates,’ take the usually perfectionistic Bono off his game. While the hit eventually goes off pretty much as planned, Bono uncharacteristically shows that his nerves are on edge and he’s tired of the life–both things which make him a liability to his employers.
The film is told very well and I loved most of it. However, like too many gangster films of the 1940s-60s, there is unnecessary narration. While Allen must have been thrilled to get the character actor Lionel Stander to narrate (and his voice was perfect), I don’t think it added anything to the film and could have easily been eliminated. Doing so probably would have made the film a bit better—a bit less preachy. Still, it is a much better than average crime film of the day–and is a marvelous example of inexpensive filmmaking. Ironically, Allen went on to have a very long career…but almost completely with television and not in film despite the quality of this production—a production that only recently has been re-discovered and widely praised. At the time it was released, it was only a second feature and got only modest attention.
As I said above, make sure to also watch the feaurette included with this Criterion release—it really helps you to appreciate how the film was made with next to no money and using various New York locales. And, fortunately, the film is currently available through Netflix and Hulu, so give it a chance.
Review by Lead Entertainment Writer & Film Critic, Martin Hafer