I haven’t written for a Blogathon in a while, and a focus on 1961 offered a fun challenge: can I find film noir in 1961 America? A quick search brought up a low-budget thriller that I couldn’t resist: Blast of Silence. Having watched the film with the gang at #BNoirDetour last Sunday, I can say for certain I made the right choice for my own pleasure and for MovieMovieBlogBlog’s 1961 Blogathon.
The voiceover (by an uncredited Lionel Stander) is a definite highlight of the film, and its primary charm. The script uses second-person reference (“you”) for its intrusive voiceover narration, describing the main character’s actions and attitudes like a hard-boiled Greek chorus. Or perhaps a better metaphor: like the beating of the tell-tale heart, the voiceover almost seems to drive Frank on, laying bare weaknesses he didn’t know he had.
Frank Bono (Allen Baron) is a mob hitman on a slow job that covers the week of Christmas to New Year’s. He allows the boredom of routine and the holiday spirit to give him pause, perhaps for the first time in his life. Rather than the steady and ample money, the easy women, and the regular expression of controlled violence that make up his life, Frank finds himself (or so the unseen narrator tells us) reminiscing, particularly about his lonely youth in a Catholic orphanage and about Christmases past. He realizes he is lonely, and directs his energy toward Lori (Molly McCarthy), who represents the commitments of traditional middle-class life he might have had…or, he thinks, might still have. After a date turns to attempted date rape, Frank finds himself isolated again, but cannot stop thinking about Lori. She is a symbol of what he now feels he has been robbed of, and thoughts of her and his misspent youth plague him, leading him to have to sloppily murder an associate to keep his current job a secret.
Frank is now unraveling fast. After calling his employer in hopes of getting out of this hit and being rebuffed and threatened, Frank does get his victim. But he also decides to change his path and shows up at Lori’s apartment without permission or encouragement. Lori, we find, has a man living with her. Though no femme fatale, she is not the blushing virgin he took her to be, and she explains that she was just playing nice because Frank seemed so very lonely. Frank learns he is not the popular tough guy he envisioned himself to be, but a misfit and a dupe. You’ll have to watch yourself to see how the film ends.
In addition to the voiceover and use of aural (not visual) flashback certainly links the film to noir, as does its focus on crime and violence from a highly cynical perspective. There is an anti-hero quality to Frank that is also noirish, but he’s neither the ultimately moral hard-boiled dick (Marlowe or Spade) nor the ambitious loser (e.g. Night and the City‘s Harry Fabian). He’d be a secondary character in most of noir (like Lee Van Cleef’s Fante in The Big Combo) or perhaps part of a heist team (Asphalt Jungle, Rififi, Odds Against Tomorrow). Instead, he’s isolated, set loose to do what is expected of him, an automaton who doesn’t know how to cope when he decides to feel.
Ultimately, I genuinely enjoyed the film both because of and despite its heavy-handed choices, from character to plot to title. Like many a noir, subtlety is not its strong suit, but the ride is gripping. The underside of urban America is on display in Blast of Silence in dark and dirty fashion. I recommend it highly.