The spare and brutal 77 minutes of Blast 0f Silence (1961) can lay claim to being the first neo-noir. It could also be the most nihilistic noir.
As fitting for a noir, Blast of Silence is defined by the darkness of its entirely character-driven story, all about the solitary hit man Frank Bono (Allen Baron). Bono is one hit man who is NOT dispassionate about his job. Instead, he has to work himself into a cauldron of seething hatred before he performs each murder-for-hire.
Bono is clearly tortured about his own childhood; watch for him observing orphanage kids lining up in the morning – as they form a swastika! Aggressively anti-social, he prefers an extremely solitary life – almost as an urban hermit. When he returns to his hometown for a hit, he encounters a woman he once knew, and it looks like he might awkwardly reach out for some human interaction (and we know how that will turn out).
Blast of Silence is an early indie film – written and directed by its star Allen Baron on a very, very low budget. Peter Falk was set to star, but he secured a paying gig at the last minute, so Baron himself stepped in to play the lead.
Frank Bono’s interior thoughts are narrated by Lionel Stander, the blacklisted actor, who later rebounded to major TV success with Hart to Hart. On the DVD, Baron explained that he paid Stander $500 for the uncredited narration; his credit would have cost another $500.
Baron shot Blast of Silence on locations that were important to Baron’s own Brooklyn childhood. He set the story amid Christmas in NYC, juxtaposing the holiday cheerfulness with Bono’s mission of cold-blooded murder. There’s one especially singular shot of the solitary Bono, in silhouette, walking and walking and walking uphill toward the camera on an uninhabited Manhattan street.
Larry Tucker is indelible as the sleazy and twisted gun dealer Fat Ralph.
The excellent Criterion Collection DVD is available from Netflix and can be bought used on eBay for under $20. The Criterion DVD includes the 2006 documentary Requiem for a Killer that features Baron’s accounts of working as cabbie and illustrator while a struggling actor, the making of Blast of Silence and what happened later (Baron went to Hollywood and became ensnared in Development Hell) . Blast of Silence is currently on available in other platforms.