Every Sunday, Film School Rejects presents a film that was made before you were born and tells you why you should like it. This week, Old Ass Movies presents:
Blast of Silence (1961)
From its symbolic opening scene to its violent conclusion, Blast of Silence is a tale of misery and hate. In its first moments, we are being shoved down a long, dark tunnel toward an indistinguishable glimmer of white. “You were born in pain,” the narrator informs us. We reach the light at the end of the birth canal and we are suddenly dropped into the difficult life of Frank Bono, a hitman with hate to spare. Blast of Silence is a film that—straight from the beginning—immerses us neck deep in shit and asks us to swim.
Made for peanuts by director/star Allen Baron, I was surprised to learn that this film was released in 1961. As a 60’s film, Blast of Silence should not make the cut for the Old Ass Movies feature on FSR, but an exception was made—if only for the fact that this film has the complete look and feel of a 40s film. For one thing, the film is grainy and ugly, not the usual class of black-and-white photography exhibited in that era. For another, it’s terse in the tradition of classic noir: at seventy-seven minutes, the film says exactly what it needs to say and then it lets the credits roll. Ugly and short-lived, this film simply is its protagonist, Frank Bono.
There are two primary characters: Frank and the enigmatic narrator. Frank is the visual perspective from which the story is told; he’s not absent from a single scene. The narrator overpowers the film’s silent moments, croaking at us in second person. It’s never completely clear what the relationship between Frank and the narrator is: Is the narrator a voice in Frank’s head, a trusted friend, or perhaps the classic omniscient and/or telepathic storyteller? Regardless of the true nature of the narrator, he seems to know exactly what’s going on in Frank’s head—and he gives us a peek inside.
Frank is a hitman sent to a city from out of his past to kill a man he’s never met. We not only meet Frank, we are immediately placed in his shoes. We walk with him to the tune of a jaunty jazz soundtrack as he follows his target and associates with his undesirable underworld colleagues. It isn’t long before we find that the shoes we inhabit are lonely and hollow, the kind of hollowness that needs to be filled by something. Without the tools to manufacture any other kind of emotion, Frank often fills himself with a burning hate. He hates everything—the world and every goddamned person in it. He can’t trust the “sewer rats” he is forced to ally himself with—he can only trust himself. “You’re alone,” the narrator tells us. “You like it that way.” But, as the film progresses, we find that this is not true at all. Frank is desperate for an emotion other than hate—but his job and his lifestyle hold him back. He channels the hate at his marks—“Somehow you always hate the targets right before you hit ‘em,”—But he can’t escape the desire for something more.
We see Frank’s chance at redemption when he connects with his past—Laurie “from the orphanage.” Frank runs into her and her brother and is subsequently invited to their Christmas party. Frank is at first apprehensive, but he gives in. He sees his opportunity for a normal life with Laurie, one filled with love rather than hate. We find that Frank belongs with a crowd of decent folks but has now become an irregular puzzle piece. The hate permanently stitched into the fibers of his being will not allow him to fit in with the good people of yesterday.
Of course, the film shows its true brilliance in its later half when Frank picks up an axe and we find out what kind of animal he really is.
Blast of Silence is an ideal film: short, sweet, and layered. It is a dense seventy-seven minutes, and an essential experience for any self-proclaimed cinephile. It is, without a doubt, one of the great obscure noir stories ever told.