Blast of Silence (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Jan 03, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Blast of Silence (Blu-ray Review)


Allen Baron

Release Date(s)

1961 (December 5, 2023)


Magla Productions/Universal Pictures (The Criterion Collection – Spine #428)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: B+
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B

Blast of Silence (Blu-ray)

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Blast of Silence is a low-budget film noir about a professional killer who spends the Christmas holiday in New York City trailing his intended victim, a suburban syndicate boss. The killer is all business as he stalks his mark, learning his patterns to determine the optimum time and place to strike.

Frankie Bono (Allen Baron) from Cleveland, Ohio has been hired to kill big- time gangster Troiano (Peter H. Clune). Frankie’s target is almost always accompanied by two bodyguards, so getting to him will be a problem. In addition, the Christmas season requires Troiano to spend days with his wife and kids, disrupting his typical schedule. Frankie methodically tails him, even to church. He finally finds his opportunity when the holiday is over and Troiano resumes visiting his girlfriend, leaving his bodyguards in the car in front of her building.

Frankie needs a gun and silencer for this job. He seeks out gun dealer Big Ralph (Larry Tucker), a large, obese man with cages full of pet rats that he enjoys playing with. Big Ralph says he needs a couple of days to acquire the items. Eager to complete the job, collect the balance of his pay, and get out of town Frankie is forced to wait. He bides his time walking the streets of Manhattan with hunched shoulders, a grim face, and an overcoat with turned-up collar as New Yorkers revel in Christmas festivities.

Frankie encounters an old friend (Danny Meehan) from the orphanage where he grew up and meets a girl, Lori (Molly McCarthy), whose friendliness he awkwardly misreads as a romantic invitation. A loner whose cold exterior can be intimidating, Frankie looks uncomfortable in his own skin. Yet he elicits no sympathy, partly because of his profession, partly because of Baron’s wooden performance.

Baron, who also wrote and directed the film, originally cast Peter Falk in the role of Frankie. Falk, however, took a role in another picture and Baron cast himself because, he says, “I was the best and cheapest actor I could afford.” This is likely true, considering his small budget, but Falk wasn’t the only actor who could have given Frankie more life. Dane Clark, Charles McGraw, Richard Conte, or Lee Marvin could easily have played Frankie, and done so much better. There are successful director/actors today, among them Clint Eastwood, Kenneth Branagh, Jodie Foster, and Jordan Peele, but back in 1961, Baron was a triple threat as writer, director, and star. Only Orson Welles had achieved the same feat, in Citizen Kane twenty years earlier.

Larry Tucker turns in a memorable performance as Big Ralph. His size and a menacing expression give him a creepy vibe that adds considerable tension to the picture. Despite his affection for small creatures, we sense this is a dangerous guy. Tucker knows the power of underplaying for effect and his presence adds suspense to a film that often seems to be coasting.

Off-screen narration by Lionel Stander offers some terse psychologizing about how Frankie’s sad background made him what he is now. Its atypical use of the second person, using “you” and “your” as if speaking to Frankie, places the viewer in Frankie’s shoes. “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.” Stander’s voice is deep and authoritative and harks back to such commentary in classics like Double Indemnity, Laura, and The Naked City. The main difference is that Stander does not portray a character in the film. The narration is used mostly in scenes of Frankie walking through the city.

Most impressive is the quantity of outdoor locations in Manhattan that Baron uses at a time when most films were still studio-bound. Rockefeller Center, the Village Gate, Fifth Avenue, a walkway near the East River, the Whitehall Ferry Terminal, a Harlem street, and the Pulitzer Fountain among others provide a kind of time capsule of how the city looked more than 60 years ago. Baron claims he “stole” a lot of these scenes since he didn’t have permits, making for some urban guerrilla filmmaking.

Blast of Silence was a serviceable second feature on a double bill back in the day. Today, it looks more like a made-for-TV movie. It’s an achievement when anyone completes a film, considering how difficult it is to coordinate all the moving parts: assemble a cast and crew, scout locations, set up a shooting schedule, and deal with myriad daily problems that arise. That this was Baron’s first feature makes the accomplishment all the more remarkable.

Blast of Silence was shot by director of photography Merrill S. Brody on 35 mm black & white film with Mitchell BNCR cameras and spherical lenses, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The Criterion Collection release contains the film in this aspect ratio as well as 1.33:1 (used when the rediscovered film was shown at various international film festivals in the 1990s and early 2000s). According to information in the enclosed booklet, the new digital masters were created from a 4K scan and restoration of the 35 mm original camera negative. The quality of the Blu-ray is very good, though some scenes look a bit washed out. This may have to do with the original filming conditions. There are no visible imperfections. Details are nicely delineated in the train station scene that opens the film and the Spring Creek, Brooklyn location that concludes it. Big Ralph’s beard, the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza, gentle ripples in the East River, Frankie’s car, and wooden planks on a pier also exhibit excellent detail. Lighting lacks the atmosphere of 1940s noir pictures and often appears flat, with little backlighting that would allow characters to stand out from the background.

The soundtrack is English 1.0 LPCM. Optional English SDH subtitles are available. According to The Criterion Collection, the original monaural soundtrack was mastered from an optical track print. Dialogue is clear and distinct. Ambient traffic noise and crowds of shoppers give the Manhattan scenes a sense of holiday excitement that contrasts with Frankie’s business-as-usual manner. Scenes of Frankie walking around the city were shot without sync sound. Meyer Kupferman’s jazz-infused score accompanies these scenes and gives the movie a driving energy. Sound effects include gun shots, heavy wind, traffic noise, punches, body pummeling, and bodies destroying furniture during a fight.

Bonus materials on the Region A Blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection include the following:

  • Requiem for a Killer: The Making of Blast of Silence (60:01)
  • Rare On-Set Polaroids (4:43)
  • Locations Revisited (11:30)
  • Trailer (1:44)

Requiem for a Killer: The Making of Blast of Silence – In 1990, a West German TV crew filmed director Allen Baron revisiting the original New York locations of Blast of Silence for Wilfried Reichart’s documentary Allen Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. In 2006, film historian Robert Fischer, in close collaboration with Reichart and Baron, cut an hour-long version from the unedited material, including a new interview with Baron. Baron was an artist and illustrator before trying his hand at directing. He had been invited onto a Paramount sound stage in 1951 and was impressed with the process of moviemaking. He had no training in film other than some knowledge about cameras. His art background was helpful in composing shots. Eastman Kodak gave Baron a new stock of film to try out. He used it for screen tests and for some scenes in the film. He was reluctant to star as well as direct, but casting himself was helpful for the film’s limited budget. A chance meeting with old friends led to enough financing to complete the film. Baron is shown visiting Brooklyn locations where he grew up and revisiting locations he used in Blast of Silence, including the Staten Island Ferry terminal, Downey’s Steak House, various streets in Greenwich Village, a rooftop, and Harlem. Baron notes, “Things aren’t quite what they used to be.” Blast of Silence was released as a second feature but received good reviews. Baron went to Hollywood but became disillusioned. He was put under contract at different times to 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros., but in both instances, his project fell through. He earned a living directing episodes for TV series, including Charlie’s Angels and The Love Boat.

Rare On-Set Polaroids – Polaroid photographs taken during the filming of Blast of Silence in New York City are shown with captions drawn from director Allen Barton’s own descriptions on the back of the original photos. The photos are shown in slideshow format, accompanied by the film’s jazz score and Lionel Stander’s narration.

Locations Revisited – In the winter of 2008, Allen Baron accompanied The Criterion Collection crew to the locations used in Blast of Silence. Photos from that day are shown. Locations range from Rockefeller Center to narrow streets in Greenwich Village to midtown Manhattan streets.

Booklet – An enclosed accordion-style booklet includes a critical essay by Terrence Rafferty, cast and crew listing, an illustration of the Frankie Bono character, and details about the film’s new digital masters.

Graphic Novel Adaptation of the Film – This four-page enclosure is an adaptation of Allen Baron’s Blast of Silence by artist Sean Phillips. Illustrations duplicate specific shots in the film.

Blast of Silence treats New York City as a character, and the film’s winter setting adds starkness with its daytime gloom and overcast skies. The screenplay is lean, with the story showing hitman Frankie Bono going through the basic paces of getting the murder contract, acquiring a weapon, and tailing his mark. Allen Baron worked against the odds to turn out a competent noir thriller, both in front of and behind the camera. With its gritty style and tropes of classic noir, it’s a competent effort. A better lead actor would have made the picture much stronger.

- Dennis Seuling