Blast of Silence (1961)

Blastofsilence.jpgIt looks like we’re staring into a black hole. Disorienting. Dark. Swirling around us. Our eyes adjust as our narrator begins his voiceover that will cover the majority of the film’s canvas. In this moment he talks about that initial spark, that moment of birth when humans leave the womb behind and see the light of day for the first time. In that same instance, we burst into the open air and realize that what we were looking at all along was the long dark tunnel from a moving train.

It’s from that train that our main protagonist hops off to get to work. He settles in a hotel room. Gets his assignment laid out with all the applicable details. He spends some time getting to know his target from the comfort of his car and picks up the gun he’ll use to commit the dirty deed. His supplier is a pudgy beatnik with a penchant for rats — a real salt of the earth kind of guy — but Frankie (Allen Baron) was never looking for a new friend.

However, he does bump into an old one. Because New York City used to be his home when he was a boy. He tried to get away from it. His memories of the orphanage and the Nuns who once cared for him. But now he’s back and one of the boys he grew up with is staring right back at him with his good tidings and Christmas cheer.

Frankie gets distracted. This complication throws him off his agenda because for one brief moment he becomes an actual human being and his very human desires begin to overtake the mechanisms of a stone cold killer. These are the same callous instincts that dictated his actions thus far. Things begin to come into their own and evolve into something truly inspired. It’s when Blast of Silence stops being a mere atmosphere or an aesthetic and becomes something real.

Because initially, this crime film is a grungy unsentimental picture that wears its low budget on its sleeve, delivering the kind of crime scenes that Jean-Luc Godard would have been proud of. However, this is not a French New Wave auteur but instead the director and star Allen Baron. At first, it seems like an exhibition not so much in style but a look and a mood and a feel. Drudging up images of the gritty pavements of Brooklyn, shipyards, and train tracks. Meanwhile, the score meanders between jazzy interludes and melodrama given the mood.

There’s a sense that it relies too heavily on its voice-over — the inner monologue of its lead — and still, that’s hardly a criticism because the film does so much that is engaging. In the end, Blast of Silence begins to suggest the immense isolation of a man in such a position. We’ve seen it before but few portrayals are so unflinching and pointed. Even as he pushes towards his objective, he’s simultaneously a picture of loneliness. We begin to question what leads someone to this career path. Some hints are left for us to make our own inferences. He’s an orphan. He’s searching for love. He wants something more. He wants a life with other people. Love, community, family perhaps.

Yet as it goes, God works in mysterious ways and you’re alone again back in the cold black silence like how things began. The film takes on a thoroughly pessimistic ending that nevertheless feels like a fitting conclusion amid the whirling rage of real-life Hurricane Donna. A truly unsentimental journey in the existence of a hitman.

3.5/5 Stars

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