Thursday, February 04, 2010

Underrated Movie #31: Blast of Silence

Film Noir week comes roaring back--

Title: Blast of Silence
Year: 1961
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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: Suspense!

No comments: