Monday, April 20, 2009

Blast of Silence -- film noir

I watched Allan Baron’s Blast of Silence last night. . Baron, with little experience, backing or money produced, directed and acted in this movie that some are now touting as the best example of film noir America has produced. Why haven’t we heard about it before? Tom Sutpen’s article provides some of the reasons:

This film has been rediscovered and will never again be hidden away as a result of studio neglect. Sutpen writes, “Looking at it from the studio's point of view, it's not difficult to see why the film was barely a priority at the time of its release, being a cheap distribution pick-up from a couple of executive producers in New York (one of whom, Dan Enright, had distinguished himself as an especially mendacious figure in the Quiz Show scandals that consumed America for several months in 1958). In fact, Blast of Silence must have seemed downright perverse to executives at U-I, given that its protagonist wasn't played by a Star, or anyone well-known to the public from either film or television, but by its writer/director; a pudgy, 26 year old non-actor whose prior directing credits had been a couple of Hawaiian Eye episodes and an assistant director gig on that piece of dreck, Cuban Rebel Girls (1959).”

Perhaps the executives at U-I had such thoughts, but I had some different ones. Physically Baron seemed suitable to the role. He wasn’t pudgy. He had a Robert De Niro look, but softer and more thoughtful. Baron’s birthday is listed as 1927 if we believe IMbd, but 1935 if we believe Sutpen. He may have been a 34 “year old non-actor.” In lieu of what Sutpen describes.

The narrator, Lionel Stander, detracted a bit from the movie. I wondered if the idea of the narrator didn’t derive from radio. I was reminded of some of the old radio thrillers – the equivalent of “film noirs” in the days when radio was still king. Sutpen’s article was written in May of 2005 and in 2006 Blast of Silence was reissued and rediscovered.

With Stander doing the narrating, I wondered if there wasn’t a Left-Wing influence. By that I mean, if we exclude the possibility of a Proletarian revolution, which McCarthy and HUAC seem to have precluded, then what is left if not Nihilism? Might as well go out and blow something up or shoot someone, e.g., Bill Ayers, Fugitive Days. And isn’t Nihilism behind Film Noir?

Baron’s hit-man, Frankie Bono, did well as long as he remained an alienated loner, but when he is assigned a hit in his home town he loses some self-confidence and tells his bosses he wants out. He is told he is in trouble for wanting out, but will be in even more trouble if he doesn’t carry out the hit; so he does. But I notice that he received the first half of his payment in a little envelope. Why would he think he needed to be walked out in a lonely place, an ideal place to be hit himself, to receive the second half of his payment? Surely he is experienced enough to see through that. And did he forget that he was in trouble?

Also, why wouldn’t he wait until after he had received the second half of his payment before throwing his gun away? Maybe it was his habit to throw the gun away as soon as possible, but now he had been warned that he was in trouble. Why wouldn’t he keep the gun in case he was to be shot and wanted the chance to shoot his way out of trouble? Well, film noir buffs might tell us, and indeed the narrator does tell us, Frankie Bono was really looking for a return to the womb, a return to silence, a permanent elimination of his angst.

And another thing, when Baron was checking out his 38, he took the powder out of a shell and then, I thought, fired the cap. That would make sense. How would he know the gun really worked unless he did something like that, but there was no sound of an exploding cap, and when he took the shell out, the cap had not been punctured? So why should we believe he is such a superb hit-man if he is willing to do a hit with an untried gun?

Some of the scenes reminded me of another Film Noir classic, Point Blank, made 6 years after Blast of Silence, starring Lee Marvin. Point Blank is more impressive and more memorable. There is nothing suicidal about Walker (Lee Marvin) lurking in the shadows waiting for Yost (Keenan Win) to Leave his money. Yost’s henchman (James Sikking) wants to take the money, but after having observed Walker kill all his enemies, Yost knows better than to add his own name to Walker’s list.

Rather than someone to be exterminated (Frankie Bono), the mob bosses try their hardest to kill Walker and fail. He has become something like an unstoppable force in the eyes of Yost who is the new head of the mob. Walker is alienated to the extent that he doesn’t care about people, but he is no victim; well he was once and left for dead, but now he is back. Of course, being film noir, “back” for Walker means lurking in the shadows and very effectively watching out for trouble.


TAS said...

I thank you for quoting from my article, but with respect to Allen Baron's age, I'm 90% certain I got a 1935 date-of-birth from the IMDb . . . which means that it's subsequently been corrected.

That's not too surprising to me, since IMDb also was responsible for a major factual error in my piece: Crediting him with co-directing a film entitled 'Outside In' in 1972. Several months after writing that piece, Allen Baron sent me an email in which, among other things, he informed me that he did not direct (or even co-direct) anything called 'Outside In', and that what I might have been referring to was a film he made that year called 'Red, White and Busted'.

Now for whatever reason, IMDb not only seems to have welded these two films into one (the title of Baron's film being listed as an alternate title for the other), the error is still there for any unsuspecting soul to draw from.

Whether Baron is pudgy in that film or not (I still think he is) is a minor point; a question for the jury to decide, as it were.

Excellent post, by the way. Salut!

butch said...

Wow, you posted this article on my birthday!

Just finished watching this movie. The plot was a little too straightforward-- I was hoping for a few twists, but the rest of the moview was pretty solid.

It did a good job of capturing the pessimism of the style.