Title: Blast of Silence
Director: Allen Baron
Writers: Allen Baron and Mel Davenport
Stars: Allen Baron, Molly McCarthy
The Story: A hard-boiled hitman arrives in New York to do a job, but he runs into an old friend from his orphanage who has a sister, and soon he’s questioning his grim profession.
How it Came to be Underrated: For years, there was a myth that John Cassavetes was the only American independent filmmaker working in the early ‘60s. Film buffs have only recently re-discovered a treasure trove of totally independent films that briefly carved out a tiny niche, then disappeared. Lo and behold, a lot of them are great!
Why It’s Great:
- Noirs were dark, but they were tame compared to the tough-guy prose that dominated the pulps of the time. Working outside the Hollywood system, Baron is able to summon up a level of deadpan existentialism that has more in common with the novels of Ed McBain or Donald Hamilton than it does with the film noirs you’re used to.
- Baron’s best decision was to hire Lionel Stander, the grizzled gunsel from Polanski’s Cul de Sac, to provide witty, god-like third-person narration. Stander offered to do it cheaper because they agreed not to credit him. The studios were serious about stamping out independent movies and anybody who worked on them.
- We’re watching one week in a man’s life, but the symbolism takes us from the creation of the universe to total apocalypse. Every movie creates and destroys its own reality, but only movies with a lot of swagger are willing to show that on screen. The movie was modestly budgeted, but not modestly written.
- Fans of old New York will love all the great shot-on-location footage. See Christmastime Fifth Avenue in its glory days! See Brooklyn when it still had vast swamplands of wild reeds! It’s like reading a Joseph Mitchell book, but with a lot more gunplay.
If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: My favorite re-discovered super-independent New York filmmaker from this period was Morris Engel, who made The Little Fugitive and Weddings and Babies. I also recommend the TV series “The Naked City” (available on best-of dvds), which made great little one-hour noirs every week on the streets of New York.
How Available Is It?: Criterion found this and put it out on dvd last year, complete with a long profile of Baron, who’s proud of his accomplishment and sanguine about the missed opportunities that followed it.
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