1961. Starring Allen Baron. Directed by Allen Baron.
I would have never know about this film without seeing the Criterion Collection logo on its cover. A late US film noir, it is quite apparently a labor of love for Baron, who not only wrote the screenplay and directed the film, but stars as lonely hitman Frank Bono, after original lead Peter Falk dropped out. It has all the elements of an auteur favorite — many scenes were filmed on the streets of Brooklyn and Harlem by a car-transported camera, and it features a hard-boiled but flowery narration (provided by the blacklisted screenwriter Waldo Salt, under a pseudonym), and a bleak, despairing main character.
Bono has been hired to kill a low-level gangster with “too much ambition.” The hit is expected to take place around Christmas (which allows for some really great scenes of outdoor holiday scenes in New York) and Bono does his due diligence, following the target, watching for a vulnerable moment, plotting the perfect hit. But the holidays also give him some time off, and a chance encounter with an old friend leads him to that friend’s sister, who has found the vulnerable place in him. Too much time setting up a hit causes the mind to wander. . .
The first step is getting a gun, and Bono’s connection is one of the highlights of the film: meeting with the supplier of untraceable weapons, Big Ralph (played by actor and producer Larry Tucker), a sloppy mountain of a man who dotes on his caged rats, and gets a little greedy when he figures out who Bono is supposed to take out. Another encounter between the two takes place at the Village Gate, home to hipsters, bongo drummers and young Dylanesque songwriters.
The narration reflects Bono’s thoughts as he almost backs out of the job, reminding him that he’s decided this would be the last one, promised himself that this would be the last. His desire for a better kind of life grows stronger, thanks to what he believes is the new woman in his life, one that he doesn’t have to view “with the lights off,” who can know his name. The final scenes were filmed during a hurricane in a marshy urban area infamous as a mob dumping ground.
There are many great scenes in this film — so many storefronts, empty sidewalks, decrepit apartments all provide the noir backdrop. Baron’s background as an artist served him well as a director. This seems like an unlikely Criterion selection, but Blast of Silence has been difficult to view until now. It deserves to be better known.