Monday, December 26, 2022

Christmas Noir: Blast of Silence (1961)

Watched:  12/24/2022
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  First
Director (Writer, Starring):  Allen Baron


There are a lot of movies about lone assassins being lonesome and weird and (spoilers) meeting their end.  It's frankly shocking how well this formula works.  Honestly, once you see "oh, this is about an assassin and it's not a major studio release?" you can swiftly follow that with  "Well, he'll die at the end."  Because there's something inevitable and inexorable about the very set-up.  If someone is selling you "noir" and it's about a hitman and the hitman isn't dead at the end, you can ring the shame bell.

So it becomes less about "what are they doing?" and more of "how are they doing it?" and - if I can ask - "what are they saying?"  

In this case, the "they" is Allen Baron (writer, director, star) and Merrill Brody (producer and cinematographer).  It's hard not to want to know what the story is behind the film, and I'll likely be picking this up on Criterion disc so I can find out.   The movie has the cinema verite styling of the mid-century indie feature, and is - honestly - gorgeous.  Shot around the holidays in New York, clearly without shutting anything down on the street, it has an almost documentary feel, punctuated by the oddball second-person narration, addressing the audience as if they're the protagonist of the film.  The narration is by the same guy who was the chauffer/ butler on Hart-to-Hart (it's this voice).  

I am not selling this at all, but trust me.  

It's a basic set-up.  Our assassin, Frank Bono, comes to town to take down a mid-tier mafioso that has cheesed-off the head-guy.  Before the mid-tier guy knows he's been found out, he's going to be liquidated.  And then we follow our assassin as he goes about his business, acquiring a gun*, staking out the target, etc...  And because this is a movie, he runs into people he knew in his youth who want to catch up.  

There's a girl and a chance for someone to maybe care about him for the first time, but that isn't right.**  He gets a glimpse of how *normal* people live, and maybe realizes this walled-off life that's spent looking for danger and threats is a dead end, so to speak.  Meanwhile, it turns out living among the rats turns his job upside down.

One of the things about movies is that *they often do not shoot on location*.  We may think we know New York, but we mostly know the New York sound stages on backlots in Southern California.  They're just not going to get every detail right, but when you see New York streets in movies like this, Sweet Smell of Success and especially the doc-like procedural of The Naked City or Killer's Kiss, it's like peering into a window into the past just watching the background.  These aren't background actors, and they aren't sets.  It's actors out on the street and cameras hidden here and there so the pedestrians don't notice (or do and don't care).  For similar, there's a few in San Francisco like The Sniper that reminds you:  ain't no city working in 3 dimensions like SF.  

Shot in New York I would guess in Christmas of 1960, it's a stark and alienating picture, and makes the absolute most out of the season in the darkest of ways.

I'm going to wrap it up here, because my plan before next Christmas is to get someone to podcast this with me.  It's a good one.

*one item that pops up *a lot* in these pre-1990's movies and books is that there was genuine concern about buying, obtaining and ditching guns that could be traced back to you in any way.  And ballistics is key to a lot of these movies.  Someone who knows guns will need to tell me about whether this was a trope and assumption before the proliferation of guns that made us all doubt this, or what happened here.  Because by the 1990's, literally no one cares about buyings guns of guns being traced back to them.  It's just not a plot point.

**there is an attempted rape in the film - or, a very large moment of confusion that would be considered rape.  Just a heads up.

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