Allen Baron’s Blast of Silence (1961) is a startlingly dark B-film noir that trudges through the gunk and garbage of Manhattan’s streets and spaces. And it’s not just the visuals that make this a unique and powerful film, a commentary on the city, the existential condition, and the nature of forgiveness. The empty echoes of ‘Deck the Halls’ sung a cappella, as our lone hired gun Frank (Allen Baron) walks beneath the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree, and continue as ‘Oh Come, All Ye Faithful’ as he circles around the Plaza’s eateries, fighting with the sounds of traffic. It’s an eerie sound in this film whose soundtrack is otherwise easy listening (flute, piano, and brushing on a drum kit) or a heavy jazz composition.
Christmas Day begins with church bells ringing loudly (and taking up the whole sky and screen) and a distant a cappella call of ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo’. All of these songs, their lyrics and musical tone, represent a passion for life and living, yet these passions are the very antithesis of noir’s hopelessness, and of Blast of Silence‘s weighted fatalism, of its permanent displacement.
He walks amongst the crowds so much, so often, negotiating his way through the bustle he so dislikes, and the festivities he is desperate to avoid. But after he unexpectedly murders slimy hoodlum Ralph (Larry Tucker), out of panic, he leaves the East Village apartment and walks down a deserted sidewalk, no other movement but the scattering of litter in the wind. Everywhere he goes, the litter in the wind follows him. Feeling lost, uncertain, he walks to Lionel Stander’s narration, “For the first time in your life you don’t wanna be alone.” Yet he still walks alone, this time along the Hudson River, not a sign of life on the empty water behind him.
He’s done the hit job. A long walk, on boardwalks over swampland, in a deserted space by the side of a highway. Jazz music accompanies the walk. All of a sudden, Frank keeps walking but his employer stops. As soon as Frank realises he’s alone, the music stops. It’s silence. Silence accompanies Frank’s anxiety, as well as it allows ours in the audience to brew, producing stronger worry and uncertainty, a sinister swell, than music. The only sound emanates from the highway, or is made by the wind sweeping through the swampland. And finally, Frank knows he is dead. He is alone. “They all hate the gun they hire,” Stander tells us, and Frank, at the beginning. Death is a messy situation.