Thursday, November 02, 2006

Blast of Silence

The Film Noir protagonist followed a simple pattern of behavior. Time and time again, men who were essentially good and decent succumbed to something that they should have ignored, and this led to their destruction. In the case of Blast of Silence, however, this theory is effectively turned on its head. This great unknown Noir features a character who has evil imprinted on his DNA - it's all he's ever known. His destruction comes because he gets a tiny whiff of what life might be like on the other side.

"You were born in pain." are practically the first words we hear, and the film's narrator goes to great lengths to establish hit man Frankie Bono as a cold loner. He's in New York to kill a mid-level mobster named Triano, and we get to watch him as he goes through the routine of setting up for the hit. He says virtually nothing in these opening passages, and our info is fed to us by the films peculiar narrator, who narrates by talking directly to Frankie. It's a device which I haven't encountered before, and it runs the risk of becoming distracting. In this film, however, it's strangely effective in establishing Frankie's tough-as-nails world.

The first step is to get a gun, and this leads to a meeting with a repulsive porcine hood named Ralphie. This scene is perhaps the first indication that Blast of Silence is going to be something more than just another mob movie, as Ralphie shuffles around, feeding his pet rats table scraps and drawing out the gun deal. Ralphie is cloyingly friendly, and a unmistakable feeling of unease is created. We just KNOW that this guy is going to figure into things again.

By this time, Frankie has started to scope out the target, and during a down period, runs into an old acquaintance from his youth. Frankie doesn't really want anything to do with the guy, but he's persistent, and eventually Frankie finds himself accepting an invitation to a party. The hit man starts out sitting by himself, but gradually gets lured into a dance with a girl named Lori. Then another, and another, and then somehow gets involved in a bizarre game of pushing as peanut with his nose. The thing is, the cold loner assassin finds himself enjoying this frivolity, as foreign as it is to him.

It's an inspired plot point that the events of BoS take place over Christmas, for two reasons. First, it amplifies Frankie's loneliness, and second, it just gives the film a cool look. BoS was made on a shoestring budget, but it never looks cheap, even remotely. There are a lot of shots done on location on the streets of New York, and with the Christmas decorations and the carols playing in the background, the film is utterly realistic.

Although it's hard to detect from his demeanor, Frankie changes subtlety after the party. Consider the following day when he is staking out the mobster as he leaves church. The narrator intones "You hate Christmas so much you can't stand sweating it out in a crummy hotel room." What's up with that line? Frankie goes back to Lori's apartment, and the two share a meal together. After dinner they talk, and Frankie comes very close to letting down his guard with her. She gets a little too close, however, and the walls go back up around Frankie.

Then, a mistake. Watching Triano one night at a club, he sees the gun dealer Ralphie in the crowd. As a conga player sings songs about jealousy and murder, the big man puts two and two together. He suggests to Frankie that since he's going to whack a mob guy, the price of the gun will be going up. This leads to Frankie following the dealer home and murdering him in his apartment. The level of violence in this scene is striking for a film made in 1961. Frankie first attacks with an ax, and when Ralphie fights back, he beats him with a lamp and savagely strangles him with the cord. The murder is brutal and sloppy.

Frankie now feels that the job has been compromised, and tries to back out of it. His bosses, however are having none of it. There's a great phone conversation where Frankie is told "For thinking what you just said, you're in trouble." So now he has to go through with the hit, but first he makes an ill-advised stop at Lori's apartment. As he starts to express his feelings for her, they are interrupted by another man, and you can just see Frankie fall apart. Whatever he felt he might have had with this girl is vaporized. His fate is sealed.

There is still a job to do, however, and the hit gets carried out as planned. Now, Frankie just wants to get his money and be left alone, but we remember that phone conversation, and when Frankie goes to a wind-ravaged marsh to collect his fee, we know what he's going to find there. Maybe he does, as well. There's the hint that he might have given himself up, and is willingly going to his death. It's hard to imagine why else he would go there unarmed after being told he was in trouble.

Blast of Silence was the brainchild of a man named Allen Baron, who wrote it, directed it, and starred as Frankie Bono. He brings to mind Robert DeNiro ,or a young George C Scott, and does a great job embodying this man who is so disconnected from those around him.

Note: I would be sadly remiss if I did not thank my friend and fellow blogger Steve Carlson for introducing me to this nasty little jewel on his terrific site, and for sending me a copy. Thanks again, Steve.


Steve said...

Great review, man. Glad ya liked it. I too was struck by how unusual the V.O. narration was -- like we were getting secret broadcasts from Bono's conscience or something. I can't think of another film that uses the V.O. purely for psychological reasons, forgoing anything like plot advancement. (Even a film like, say, Fight Club still relies on the voiceover to smooth out the story kinks.)

w. bertola said...

May I suggest Murder By Contract for your viewing pleasure?