So once again we have survived.

Blast of Silence

tn_blastofsilenceHere’s a movie I never heard of until Criterion released it a couple years ago. It’s a real raw, pulpy, hard boiled crime deal, low budget, filmed independently and released in 1961. It’s about a hitman from Cleveland coming into New York, staking out his target. Because it’s black and white and full of hard-nosed tough guy narration it makes you think of old noir movies, but because it was made in the ’60s it’s a more modern, realistic approach to dialogue and acting, all done in real locations, on real city streets, not always with permits.

The guy isn’t super-cool, in fact he kind of looks like David Paymer. He doesn’t seem like a phony to me, though. Just a regular looking guy who happens to be a hitman. Not a movie star.

mp_blastofsilenceThe narration is really unique. It puts you in this guy’s shoes, explaining his plan and his thoughts and pays particular attention to the sweatiness of his hands. But strangely it’s not the hitman’s voice. It’s an unknown narrator, and he keeps saying “you.” You arrive in town. You have sweaty hands. Like this story is about you. About me. Or whoever’s watching it.

When the guy’s in Harlem the narrator says, “You hate them, and they hate you.” I was like what? No! That’s not true! Speak for yourself, narrator. Don’t involve me in your hangups.

He/you run into some dude from your past, when you grew up in an orphanage. (remember that?) At first it’s a problem, you’re worried he’s gonna get in your way. But it’s Christmas Eve and you got time to kill and he pressures you into going to this party and there’s this girl you used to like and you start letting personal distract you from professional.

There’s a gun dealer in the movie played by Larry Tucker, the guy who wrote I LOVE YOU, ALICE B. TOKLAS. He’s a fat guy with a beard who talks in a gentle, friendly voice – friendly to the point of creepy. I can’t remember seeing a guy quite like this in a crime movie before, but he reminds me of a character that would be in one Parker book as a fence or a finger (and most likely not survive to be in another). In fact the whole movie has the feel of some lost pulp novel Hardcase Crime or somebody might dig up. The narration really makes it like a novel and somehow, for me anyway, never seemed like too much. Even though it was an awful lot. I wouldn’t want that much narration in a modern movie, but in something like this it works. The visuals do the movie business and the words do what books do, putting you inside the guy’s mind.

It’s funny, pulp was supposed to be just some crap that hard-up writers could type up quick and use to pay their rent. But some of them turned out real good anyway, and this style of crime story formula is still appealing and hard to imitate in the modern day without seeming phony, like a musician today trying to pull off a zoot suit. BLAST OF SILENCE really is the cinematistic equivalent of one of those books. Solid, but not revolutionary. Of its time, but not out-of-date. It seems like there ought be a thousand simple, low budget independent crime movies like this, but I don’t know of any other ones from this era. The other guys with the cameras and black and white film were busy with carnivals of souls and nights of the living dead. It’s kind of an eye-opener to see that those weren’t the only guys doing it well, just the only ones anybody found out about.

Apparently Waldo Salt, blacklisted writer who later worked on SERPICO and COMING HOME, wrote the narration. But the writer/director is named Allen Baron, and he also plays you in the movie. So you are him, and I think you did a good job.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 21st, 2010 at 11:17 pm and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

20 Responses to “Blast of Silence”

  1. “It’s funny, pulp was supposed to be just some crap that hard-up writers could type up quick and use to pay their rent.”

    Vern – I would use that same basic analogy to describe B-movies, specifically those Corman-produced variety from back in the day.

    Yet now usually summer blockbusters (maybe started with STAR WARS, or JAWS) are effectively ultra big budget B-pictures.

  2. Sounds like I was really good in this. I can’t wait to see myself in it.

  3. One of my favourite noirs… absolutely brilliant on every level. BLAST OF SILENCE only got lost because it was made (1961) as B movies were dying out, so it had a very limited release as cinemas were moving away from the “block” system. Originally picked this up from a website called 60 Seconds To Live a few years ago. They sold a bunch of underrated noirs that have now finally been released by Criterion, Masters of Cinema etc. Other re-discovered classics that are must-sees include NIGHTMARE ALLEY and MURDER BY CONTRACT. Thanks for highlighting BLAST OF SILENCE, Vern.

  4. I liked this movie as well. It’s got a scrappy, underdog charm to it, and I’m a sucker for movies that clearly didn’t get made through proper channels vis a vis permits, safety regulations, and common sense. Plus, it’s an early example of the “Lonely Assassin” subgenre (ex. LEON, GROSSE POINT BLANK, BANGKOK DANGEROUS) in which a hitman is cast as society’s ultimate outsider so the filmmakers can explore issues of existential angst, trenchcoats, etc.

  5. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never heard of this one before. I’m a huge fan of noir and I’m originally from Cleveland so this appears right up my alley. I’ve read several short stories that are written in the second person, but I’ve never come across a film that’s in the second person.

    As I understand noir history, as the genre declined in popularity in the 1950s it become more of a B-movie genre. Eventually, it was displaced by other, more popular B-movies that were aimed at teenagers, like the big bug movies of the late 50s and early 60s. It is strange to see a holdover of noir like this in the early sixties, but then again, Point Blank, one of the highlights of the genre, was just around the corner.

  6. I heard about this one from Patton Oswalt, when he had a little movie marathon thingy. He played this along with Charley Varrick, which co-stars Joe Don Baker if I recall. Both of which I’ve yet to see.

    Also, the Criterion cover art is by Sean Phillips, from the crime comic, Criminal, written by Ed Brubaker. Highly, highly, recomended.

  7. I meant to say Charley Varrick, that stars Walter Matthau & co-stars Joe Don.

    But you guys prob knew that.

  8. the black and white of the guy with the gun made me think of “Twelve Angry Men” for some reason. You should review that one vern. I cant really tell you why I liked it but I really did. I even bought it on dvd when I saw it in the store.

  9. Wow, a black and white pulp noir from the sixties that I hadn’t heard of. (Didn’t think there were too many of those left.) And a good one too, it sounds like. I’ll keep an eye out for it. Cheers Vern!

  10. BTW it seems as though Seagal’s making a comeback. I was in the supermarket today and there, for fifteen pounds, was a box-set of eight Seagal pictures. I’ve looked it up and we have “Executive Decision”, “Exit Wounds”, “Under Siege” and “Under Siege 2”, “Fire Down Below”, “Above the Law”, “Out for Justice”, and somewhat bizarrely “Glimmer Man”. I say bizarrely because why on earth include “Glimmer Man” in a collection like this?

    It’s a decent collection but I gotta criticise the lack of “Marked for Death”. That’s like putting out a CD of “Best of Celine Dion” and not including “All By Myself”.

    Not sure why this has come out now. Maybe it’s “Lawman” (which hasn’t been on TV over here in Britain) or maybe it’s “Machete”, although I have to say Seagal did absolutely nothing for me in that film and his final fight scene with Danny Trejo was easily one of the worst of his career – hardly the stuff that great comebacks are made of.

  11. Paul — his fight may have been iffy, but you gotta admit he makes a pretty good villain. Obviously he’s no Jeff Fahey, but come on, who can be held to that standard?

  12. That box set has been floating around for ages. Putting Executive Decision in there is a bit of a strange one, considering that’s mainly a Kurt Russell film. Hard to Kill missing as well, but can’t really complain too much given the price.

  13. Paul, in my opinion there are more than 2 (two) places on this websight where you could write about Seagal or Machete where it would be on topic and would not derail a conversation about BLAST OF SILENCE. I’m gonna forgive you because it’s Christmas, but show a motherfucker some courtesy next time.

  14. If you (yes, you) like the film and would like to learn more about it you should get the German DVD, which has an audiocommentary by the director.
    I’ve been in love with this film since I first saw it as a teenager – the poetic hard boiled narration, the sadness of the killer who spends Christmas figuring out how to kill a man and how to hook up with an old love – “Blast of Silence” was the beginning of my love for movies about hitman and I still consider it to be one of the best of the subgenre.

  15. I have not seen this one. And this is only tangentially on topic. But Vern, out of curiosity, have you ever watched Jean Pierre Melville’s gangster movies? LE SAMOURAI has been one of my favorites for a while but I recently checked out LE DOULOS, LE DEUXIEME SOUFFLE, UN FLIC and my personal favorite so far, LE CERCLE ROUGE, and these are some of the best crime pictures ever in my opinion. I know they’ve influenced everyone from John Woo to Quentin Tarantino, so I think you’d get a kick out of them if you haven’t seen them. ARMY OF SHADOWS is also amazing, but it’s about war resistance with sharp looking hats rather than cool gangsters with sharp looking hats. I’m gonna try to track down that BOB THE GAMBLER one next I think. If there are any Melville enthusiasts here feel free to recommend his other must see movies.

  16. Sorry Vern, didn’t mean to be discourteous.

  17. Glad to hear that the “internal monologue” can work. Saw “The Perfect Sleep” a while ago, which was a great
    modern film noir almost ruined by an almost continuous monotonous narration by the film’s protagonist.

  18. Mike – I had pretty much the same problem with “Sin City”. A lot of times in the film I felt they were telling us the story, not showing us it. Sounds like this one works better.

  19. Thanks for the off-topic reprimand. I hope more people check out BLAST OF SILENCE as a result of your review. I remain a little baffled that people comment on films they haven’t seen for the sole aim of leaning it towards films they have seen. But hey-ho, happy Christmas everyone. And what better way to celebrate it than watch BLAST OF SILENCE, a Christmas movie!

  20. I took at look at this after seeing it on the Christmas Crime list. I guess I must have noticed it when Vern first reviewed it because I commented at the time, but only about MACHETE. And I would like to apologize for doing that, because I sort of really loved this movie. It’s simple, slow, elegant, sad and unique without being flashy or gimmicky. The 2nd-person narration makes it unusual, but it’s the fact that scene after scene just works that really stuck with me. For a no-budget indie film, it’s absolutely bursting with great moments and effective sequences. Plus, it’s loaded with invaluable footage of the particular time and place it’s shot, not dating it so much as giving us a window into a world now lost to history. If you’re thinking of checking this one out, do it immediately.

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