Thursday, August 10, 2006

Blast of Silence (1961)

From the outset, writer/director/star Allen Baron's grim magnum opus makes clear its intention to be the bleakest, darkest, low-down-dirtiest mega-noir the world has ever seen. I mean, you have to respect a film that opens with the anti-hero's birth coupled with a voiceover narration saying how he was basically screwed from moment one. Baron's wonderfully moody tale of a hitman from Cleveland, born alone, who aligns himself with solitude as a big fuck-you to the rest of the world is hard-boiled and hyperbolic in all the right ways. The voiceover narration deserves mention as a separate character; rather than describing the action or setting the scene, it seemingly exists to taunt the misanthropic Cleveland into action, sneering at him and reaffirming his blistered hatred of everything he sees. It's somewhere between an inner monologue and a meta-commentary, and it works beautifully. Baron the director shows some awesome chops for a guy who worked in TV all his life -- the interplay of light and shadow are impressive, and he gets some fine mileage out of well-timed closeups (like the one given to Big Ralph in his last scene); there's even a touch of Casavettes in some of the more chaotic scenes (the Christmas party and the jazz club scenes in particular). Meanwhile Baron the writer has a trained ear for what sounds just noir enough without going over the top (best line: "He wears a mustache to hide the fact that he has lips like a woman"). And then there's Baron the actor. His lead turn is probably the weakest aspect of his cinematic hat trick, which says something about how accomplished his writing and direction are, since his performance, though a bit studied, is generally believable. (It helps that he's got a great mug.) Stuff like this is like manna for noir junkies.

Grade: A-


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