Sunday, March 6, 2011

Blast of Silence (1961)

Simultaneously old-school noir and new wave, this stark, black-and-white pic revolves around a hitman who comes to New York for a job that, progressively, becomes more and more complicated. The opening shot sets the tone for the picture, showing a train going through the last stretch of a tunnel while the voice-over relays, as the narrator thinks of it, the experience of childbirth. We are further brought into the material when we realize that the narrator, although, ostensibly, the voice of the protaganist, is referring to the actions on-screen in the third person, as if the main character, Frank Bono, is watching the movie of his life along with us. This provides a sense of moral objectivity and ruthlessness to the proceedings that weren't common in this era of American noir. As Bono, Allen Baron (who also wrote and directed) cuts a distinct figure, even in the pantheon of cinematic hitmen; looking a cross between George C. Scott and Robert De Niro, he is the perrenial New York outcast, trying to be invisible, and thus, inherently distancing himself and rendering himself conspicuous. As his various plans and assumptions become skewed and complex, Baron treats us with an intimacy into his frame of mind and the sort of conscience-less thought structure that dictates his behavior; he is neither the tragic, hardened figure that Lee Marvin perfected, nor the simpering, scheming fool whom we watch dig his own grave, a la Peter Lorre. The film utilizes New York locations better than any film of this era (save for maybe Hitchcock's The Wrong Man); the accompanying DVD documentary, shot in color, which visits the same locations 40 years later, shows just how impressively and majestically the gorgeous black and white compositions were rendered.

Highly Recommended for fans of New Wave-era noir, such as Elevator to the Gallows or Le Samurai, or of seeing old New York in loving, evocative black and white. There are lots of films with vaguely similar subject matter, even from back then; this terse, yet surprisingly human entry is one of the better ones.

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