Allen Baron’s superb slice of neo-noir is quite possibly one of the darkest and bleakest films of all time. So why I hear you ask, is it included in our Christmas countdown? Despite its bleak landscape, the movie’s unconventional perspective on the festive season makes Blast of Silence a hidden Christmas gem.
Baron’s film follows several days in the life of a New York hitman, Frankie Bono (Allen Baron), whose job is the assassination of a mobster called Troiano over the Christmas holidays. From this description, you may be expecting an action-packed crime thriller filled to the brim with violence and shootouts; however, in reality, Blast of Silence plays out as an existential drama. Rather than focusing on the assassination, Baron’s movie portrays the inscape of an antisocial hitman as he aimlessly wanders through the festive glow of New York City, unable to connect with anyone. Here, his wanderings are clear in purpose while secretive in nature, from purchasing a new gun from a dealer to a Christmas party, where he meets an old flame he later attempts to sexually assault.
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Ironically, the Christmas backdrop of Blast of Silence with its celebrations, gifts, trees and street Santas only makes Frankie’s journey even more stark and lonely. Here the festive cheer alienates him as he passes those celebrating, his aimless hatred and emptiness exposed by Lionel Stander’s brilliant narration. The result is one of the best noirs ever made, one where we can almost taste the cigarette smoke and alcohol on Frankie’s breath.
Baron’s film is a stunning example of modernist filmmaking, its refreshingly bold visual style embedded in the authentic location shots of New York City. Meanwhile, its narrative approach focuses on the main character’s psyche rather than the events surrounding him as we enter his closed and isolated world. When combined, these traits place Blast of Silence among the forerunners of French New Wave cinema while inspiring many of the gritty New York thrillers of the 1970s.
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Although the story is about as far from the classic festive mood as you can get, Baron’s rediscovered classic does explore traditional themes of festive isolation. Here the holidays almost feel like a knife penetrating Frankie’s heart as he silently considers what could have been and what is unavoidable. The result is, in many ways, reminiscent of Albert Camus’s The Stranger in its worldview. Only recently rediscovered by many after disappearing into the mists of time, Blast of Silence carries a unique place in cinema history through its unforgettable visuals and complex character study. And while it may not be a cheery Christmas movie, it is a landmark in modern cinema that deserves your undivided attention.