Friday, April 22, 2016

Blast Of Silence (1961) New York Tail Fin Noir

Director was Allen Baron, the film was written by Allen Baron (screenplay), Waldo Salt (narration). Starring Molly McCarthy (Lori), Allen Baron (Frankie Bono), Larry Tucker (Big Ralphie) (Shock Corridor 1963)), Peter Clune (Troiano) Danny Meehan (Petey), Charles Creasap (Contact Man) Dean Sheldon (nightclub bogo singer), Bill DePrato (Joe Boniface), New York City in all its gritty glory, and a Voice Over, second person narration by Lionel Stander (uncredited). Cinematography was by Merrill S. Brody and cool  jazzy score by Meyer Kupferman.

Darkness. We hear a roaring. A pinprick of light. A steel train in the dark.

North River Tunnel, Bergen Hill Portal (opening credits)

"Remembering, out of the black silence he was born in pain...
you were born with hate and anger built in...." 

Blast Of Silence didn't quite come out of nowhere. Allen Baron was an artist who attended the School of Visual Arts and was an illustrator, he got the bug to make a movie after visiting a soundstage in Hollywood. He learned rudimentary camera work while working on a film down in Havana in 1959.

Blast of Silence was mostly shot "guerrilla style" without permits on the streets of New York City for roughly 20,000 dollars. This de facto neorealism imbues the film with an aura of believability that bigger Hollywood productions often did not acquire.

On a side note, I've written countless times that most of the films depicting New York's quintessential Film Noir hardboiled detective Mike Hammer, are less "New Yorkie" than eight films that are not Hammer films, but films that captured both a Film Noir Style and wallow in the true gritty NYC ambiance that every Hammer film demanded. These eight are The Naked City (1948), Killer's Kiss (1955), Two Men in Manhattan (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)* only partially set in NYC,  Blast of Silence (1961), Something Wild (1961), Aroused (1966) and The Incident (1967). Watch these and see what could have been.

A GG1 in Pennsylvania RR livery arriving at Pennsylvania Station

"You come into Manhattan by dark whatever time of day it is
through tunnels like sewers hidden under the city, but you don't mind tha 
it's always that way no matter what city it is."

When bar room buddie of Allen Baron, actor Peter Falk who had agreed to play the lead for a deferred salary, actually got a paying gig for Murder Inc (1960) Baron was left without a star. Mel Brody, a school chum of Baron's, who was converting an old firehouse into a sound studio (which the production utilized), suggested that Allen himself act the part of Frankie Bono in the film. As Allen put it, “…I was the best actor available to me at the time, and I was the only one I could afford. So I wrote it, directed it, and was forced to act in it. The truth is I didn't want to play the role.”

Baby Boy Frankie Bono

"You're alone, but you don't mind that, you're a loner
that's the way it should be, you've always been alone,
by now it's you're trademark. You like it that way."

Lionel Stander the only bona fide Hollywood star connected with the film, though uncredited, was trying to get his career back on track  in 1960 after being Blacklisted by HUAC. Again quoting Baron, “Lionel Stander was a blacklisted actor. He did the narration, and he wanted  $1000 if we used his name. Or, $500 if we didn't use his name. Well, naturally, with the amount of money we had we took the $500 deal. So that’s why he doesn't receive a credit.”

The late great Pennsylvania Station, Bono arrives back in NYC
The basic story of Blast of Silence is a reimagining and updating of Murder Incorporated.

"Baby Boy" Frankie Bono (Baron), an icy hearted contract killer out of Cleveland, has arrived in New York City to give second string syndicate boss Troiano (Clune) a Christmas "gift" in the form of a couple of rounds of lead in the head.

But Frankie was raised in an orphanage in New York City, so this trip is a sort of a reluctant homecoming and also a reckoning with his past. The whole commercial holiday ambiance, i.e., Christmas carols played on the intercom in Penn Station, the Salvation Army Bands on the streets, the decorations in the store fronts all bring back sour memories of a kid who had nothing, was alone in the world, who grew up tough with some hard bark. Christmas gives him the creeps.

Troiano second from right making Harlem pickups

Frankie checks into a dump, the Valencia Hotel. Heads downtown. He rides the Staten Island Ferry to meet his wise guy contact. The contact asks for a light. He gets 25 G's and photos of his mark. He gets the other 25 G's when the job is done. Sounds like cake.

So Frankie does what he always does. And what Frankie does he does best. He tails Troiano. He dopes out his patterns. He eliminates possibilities.  He hones in on others. Troiano lives out in Nassau County. He's always picked up by bodyguards. Guys with HOODS stamped on their foreheads. 9:30 on the dot. Always drives into the city.  Cross Island Parkway, Grand Central Parkway, Triboro Bridge, Harlem. Or the deviation, Northern Boulevard, Queensboro Bridge, Greenwich Village. Troiano runs the girls, the dope, the book, and the numbers. The type of guy Frankie hates. Frankie has got to make the hit when Troiano is alone.

Frankie needs a piece for the job. .38 with silencer. He goes to see an old Harlem goombah, Big Ralphie. Big Ralphie is a skel, a gavoon, a real fat slob. He lives in a one room flop. He keeps sewer rats for pets. He's got their cages all Christmas doodad-ed. He's eating pizza with his rats. He skeeve's out Frankie big time. But Ralphie's got contacts. He wants half a G. Frankie says two bills. They compromise on three. Frankie say he'll go him a yard and a half now and the rest on delivery. Ralphie squeals. Frankie throws in another fifty. Deal done.

Ralphie (Larry Tucker)

But Frankie can't pick up the gun till after Christmas, he kills time walking around Rockefeller Center. Remembering. While eating dinner on Christmas Eve it's Frankie's misfortune to run into pal Petey from the orphanage. He's about to give him the brush when Petey's sister Lori shows up. Lori was something special, Lori is Frankie's femme fatale.  Frankie makes the mistake of going to Lori's Christmas Eve Party and having a good time. His second mistake is falling all over again for Lori, who is definitely hot to trot with him too. But Frankie, out of normal circulation for so long, is speeding down love's highway way over the limit, trying get past third base way too quickly. He gets rough. Forghedaboudit.  Lori shoots him out of the saddle.

Frankie (Allen Baron)

Lori (Molly McCarthy)

Frankie with Christmas out of his system is back on the job and finally finds out where Troiano is alone. Troiano has a "gumare" a babe he shacks up with that he keeps in a brownstone down on East 30th St. When he's with her he's alone.

Shadowing Troiano, Frankie ends up at the Village Gate, a "Beat" nightclub with a bongo playing vocalist and band. Troiano is giving a party. Unfortunately for Frankie going right in before checking the joint out was his third mistake. Ralphie spots him watching Troiano. Ralphie dopes out the hit. Frankie is going after "big Game". Ralphie braces Frankie in the john. Ralphie wants "luxury prices." Frankie tells Ralphie forghedaboudit.

Troiano and his "gumare"

Pissed that Ralphie is trying to skive their deal, Frankie leaves and stakes out the club and waits. Ralphie jets. Frankie tails. Ralphie is loaded. Ralphie waddles back to his pad. He fumbles the door open. He crashes on his bed. Frankie is out in hall. Frankie spots the fire ax. Frankie is going to cusinart Ralphie. Ralphie takes a chop, His left arm dangles. He grabs Frankie by the neck. The rat cages smash. Rodents scatter. Frankie grabs a lamp. Lamp smashes Ralphie's head. Frankie gets both hands on Ralphie's neck. Ralphie's eyes bulge. Ralphie is rat food.

Killing Ralphie of course flushes everything down the toilet to Noirsville. Frankie gets the job done but getting spotted by Ralphie at the Village Gate and its final consequences broke his contract.




The film belongs to that late '50s early '60s group of Noirs I like to designate "Tail Fin Noirs" for the predominate auto design feature that's unmistakeable and visually quite prominent.

Blast of Silence is a character study of loneliness, obsession and alienation. It's noir pulp poetry that's cinematically illustrated expertly, on the cheap. A classic that can sit comfortably right beside poverty row's Detour (1945). Bravo Allen Baron!

Screencaps are from the Criterion DVD.  10/10

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