The Criterion Collection's revival of the hardboiled indie film -- a tense, bleak, stylish 77 minutes -- confirms star-director Allen Baron as a talented drive-by contributor to the genre. Anyone with a claim to film noir fanhood (or holding a French passport) needs to get his paws on this DVD.
Our antihero is "baby boy" Frank Bono, a hit man on assignment in Manhattan at the height of Christmas holidays. He's packing seasonal greetings for a midlevel mobster who ran afoul of the wrong guys. We follow the killer as he tries to get through the lonely holiday and take out his mark.
The magic of the big city at Christmas "was a fantastic contrast against a professional killer, out to do what he was out to do," the director notes.
Baron, who went on to a long career as a TV director, comes along for the ride with Criterion's single-disc DVD. He's a cool guy, pleased to be reliving his brief blast of glory.
Baron revisits his movie's New York locations in the hourlong film "Requiem for a Killer: The Making of 'Blast of Silence,' " whose footage mostly dates back to the movie's overdue rediscovery two decades ago. He's also featured in a contemporary slide show.
The city is a major character in the indie black-and-white feature -- a cliche, yeah, but it feels fresh here. "I knew the city wouldn't let me down," says Baron, who shot the film in many of the places he knew as a boy and youthful artist. As often as not, the cheap-o production "stole the scene" -- filmed without permits.
The tough as girders narration comes from character actor Lionel Stander, whose Bronx-accented rap addresses the hit man in second person: "They all hate the gun they hire," the voiceover says as the assassin goes about his prep work. "When they look at you ... they see Death over the counter."
The words come from Waldo Salt, like Stander a Blacklist target. Neither was credited by name.
When the killer tracks his prey, "You feel the hate shaping up at the back of your neck where the hair is short. That's a good sign," Stander says, in the role of the Greek chorus. Great stuff. Baron talks about the sexual rush the killer gets from silently observing his target and his lounge-lady girlfriend.
Here and there, the movie feels like an older sibling to "Who's That Knocking at My Door?" -- say, when the hit man mingles with an old pal and his attractive but unavailable sister, in an attempt to fend off the holiday blues. Fat chance.
(DVD Savant's review suggests: " 'Blast of Silence' would make an especially thoughtful double bill with 'Taxi Driver.' ")
Baron intended for Peter Falk to play his killer, but the actor bolted for Fox's "Murder, Incorporated." "I was the best actor available and the only one I could afford," Baron recalls. Then ... "The truth is, I did want to play the role."
Criterion's scrubbed-fresh rendering of "Blast of Silence" is a tad flat for my taste, but otherwise looks like a million bucks. Perhaps that's because "Blast" doesn't go in for the dramatic lighting and hard contrasts of most artsy noirs. The images (1.33:1) came from a composite 35mm master positive. No visible damage pollutes images of the cold gray city sky. The mono audio offers up the dialog straight and clear, mostly.
The DVD also comes with a four-page graphic-novel adaptation by Sean Phillips ("Criminal," "Sleeper"). The booklet's essay comes from critic Terrence Rafferty. There's a trailer from Universal, which gave the film a second-string release in first-run.
Also circling the DVD blog's players this week: "Alien Nation: Ultimate Movie Collection," spun off from the old Fox series that humanized sci-fi TV in the 1980s; the previously reviewed "Juno"; the dolled-up "Lars and the Real Girl"; and ThinkFilm's hopeful African docu "War/Dance."
Pick of the week: Juno
Dog of the week: A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila
New and notable:
Alien Nation: Ultimate Movie Collection (Fox)
Alien vs. Predator -- Requiem (Fox)
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (ThinkFilm)
Blast of Silence (Criterion)
Diana: Queen of Hearts (Genius Products)
The Final Season (Fox)
I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With (Genius)
Lars and the Real Girl (MGM)
A Passage to India (Sony)