‘Blast of Silence’ – A killer Christmas on Criterion Channel

Blast of Silence (1961), Allen Baron’s stark, low-budget 1961 thriller about a hit man who arrives in New York City over the Christmas holiday to execute a contract on a mid-level gangster was once a holy grail of film noir.

Shot on the streets of New York in black and white by a minimal crew and handheld camera, with the cold of winter seeping into every location scene, Blast of Silence turns the bustling streets and chilly urban atmosphere into an alienated world. The veteran assassin, a man who patiently observes his target’s routine before making a move, becomes “Baby Boy Frank Bono,” a disconnected killer who prefers the isolation of his own company. His uses his spite and self-hatred to focus on the meticulous details of plotting and executing a murder. Writer/director Baron himself takes the lead role of Frank Bono (a part originally written for young actor Peter Falk) and the production embraces its limitations with stark, stripped down quality that isolates Frank even in the crowds of Rockefeller Plaza during the holidays. His ride on the Staten Island Ferry is as chilly as it gets.

The film plays like an unholy marriage between the realist film noirs of the forties like The Naked City and the early independent dramas of John Cassavetes. The narrator (an uncredited Lionel Stander) speaks in second person like the twisted inner voice of a soul that has been basting in antipathy and spite for years. The narration plays like hard-boiled riffs on pulp beat poetry distilled into pure misanthropic cynicism and the jazzy combo soundtrack drives it with upbeat energy but also twists into dissonant, alienating sounds at times, suggesting the storm in Frank’s head.

The film was almost impossible to see for years, known only by reputation until a small but revelatory revival in the nineties. It is a remarkable achievement in American indie cinema and a heady genre riff decades before John Sayles and Spike Lee and the Coen Bros.

Molly McCarthy is the woman who inspires his romantic side, someone who nurtures feelings for the soulless Frank, and Larry Tucker costars as the gun salesman who dotes on his pet rats during the sale. Oscar-winning screenwriter Waldo Salt, at that time still blacklisted by Hollywood, wrote the narration under the screen name Mel Davenport.

Black and white

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Blast of Silence (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
Blast of Silence (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]

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The Criterion Collection releases on 4K UHD+Blu-ray and on DVD also feature the 60-minute documentary “Requiem For a Killer: The Making of Blast of Silence,” shot largely in 1991 by director Wilfried Reichart (after the film’s revival at the Berlin Film Festival) and expanded by Robert Fischer in 2007. Allen Baron is a good host, sharing stories and observations as he walks through the locations (circa 1991) and talks about the film and his career. Fischer bookends the production with new interviews from Baron’s home in 2006. Also features galleries of stills comparing the film’s locations then and now and dozens of Polaroids (most of them scuffed and faded with time) shot on the set of the production, a booklet with an essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty and a four-page graphic-novel adaptation of the film by artist Sean Phillips (who also drew the cover art).


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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