BLAST OF SILENCE is a comic-book film made in 1961, predating the hard-boiled grit of Allan Moore and Frank Miller by almost 30 years. The visual composition, the psychotic narrator and the general plot, are all elements taken from old Hollywood film noirs, and comic books, a medium actor/director/writer Allen Baron worked had worked in previous to this, his debut film. Classic elements are exagerrated and taken to cartoonish levels of violence and psychopathy, paralleling in a distinctly American way, the trends being developed in France’s cinema by, most notably, Godard, with BREATHLESS (1960). These two films share much in common, though Baron says it wasn’t for at least two more years that he had the opportunity to see it.
In BREATHLESS, Jean-Paul Belmondo plays a character that one can easily forget is a psychotic, cop-killing lunatic criminal. In BLAST OF SILENCE, it is impossible to forget: Lionel Stander’s narration is chillingly delivered, his voice almost grating on the ears, and a constant reminder that the main character is not one to sympathise with, that he is a demented killer. It is evident that he gets some sexual thrill from stalking his prey. This ritual of following his “hits,” ostensibly so he can murder them in peace, serves another purpose, one admitted to in the narration, but which the character can-not realize the full import of: he must bring himself to hate his targets before he can murder them, indicating that, despite a long career and a professional reputation, he is acting contrary to some base element of his conscience.
The hitman of BLAST OF SILENCE is a fairly deep character, riddled with complexes and subconscious desires. He is portrayed by his writer, and the director of the film, who has stated that he did not desire to play the role personally, but was forced to when he found that he was the most competent actor he could afford with his limited budget. Baron acts competently, but he misses some of the subtlety of the character: he communicates a lack of feeling well, but this is not a difficult feat to accomplish. What he fails to convey, is an expression of the character’s below-the-surface feelings and impulses. As I said above, the character is a psychologically complex character, but many of these layers are only expressed in the narration. This is no fault of Baron’s -- in fact, it is to his credit that he recognized his own limitations, but was still able to create a complex character in combination of good writing, direction and competent, though limited, acting.
BLAST OF SILENCE is only comparable to BREATHLESS in a few ways: the treatment by the director of their respective cities, the basic plot centred around criminals, and an acute sense for visual composition. With BREATHLESS, however, Godard flouted basically every cinematic convention possible: the influence of Hollywood film noirs on plot and character is obvious, but in terms of style, BREATHLESS is avant-garde. BLAST OF SILENCE however, made by a complete newcomer to cinema, rather than someone steeped in its history (Godard), is filmed in a conventional style similar to most Hollywood films of the era BLAST drew its influence from. Its editing is instinctive, and the direction shines purely because of Baron’s artist’s sense for composition. For this reason, despite an exaggerated sense of demented psychopathy and violence, and many production traits that would become hallmarks of an emerging “new wave” in American cinema, I call BLAST OF SILENCE a “true” film noir, rather than some neo- revisitation.