Will Pfeifer: Dark, hard-to-find hitman flick captures 1960s NYC

Will Pfeifer

You’ve never heard of “Blast of Silence,” have you?

I didn’t think so. I only know about it because a book I read in college called “Incredibly Strange Films” included a review of the film, and that book proclaimed it impossible to find. Even during the 1980s and ’90s, when nearly every obscure movie seemed to find its way onto home video, “Blast” remained MIA, appearing only at infrequent screenings or on low-quality, high-priced bootleg videos. I bought one myself a few years ago and was mightily impressed — but I still wanted to know who the heck made this thing.

Thankfully, that situation has been remedied and the mystery has been solved.

Top-notch DVD company Criterion has just released a bang-up disc of “Blast of Silence,” making all those bootlegs obsolete. Now we can all bask in the black-and-white brilliance of this strange, forgotten film — and learn the intriguing tale of its creation.

Released after the American film noir era but before the French New Wave era, “Blast” combines elements of both. It’s dark and ominous, like noir, but inward-looking and ambiguous, like New Wave. But most of all, it’s like no other movie out there. The film follows hitman Frankie Bono (Allen Barron, who also wrote and directed) on a yuletide trip to the Big Apple. Naturally, Frankie’s there to kill, not shop, and as he prepares for the hit on a midlevel mobster, our narrator (longtime character actor Lionel Stander) eggs him on, referring to Frankie as “you” for the entire film. It’s a strange way of putting you (the viewer) into the movie, but it works. Before long, you are Frankie Bono, a quiet guy from Cleveland who knows no one in New York, but knows he’s going to have kill someone soon.

If you’re looking for fast-paced action, look elsewhere. “Blast of Silence” is a thoughtful, serious drama, full of foreboding visuals and ominous energies — but not full of action. If you’re looking for a fascinating snapshot of both independent film and New York City, circa 1961, however, I’d highly recommend “Blast of Silence.” It reveals just what could be done with a small cast, a good idea and no money almost 50 years ago. It’s rough around the edges, as many low-budget films are, but that roughness gives it an intensity and immediacy a higher budget would’ve smoothed over. And it offers a heartbreaking glimpse of the Big Apple long before it went to hell in the ’70s (and went to Disneyland in the ’80s).

Besides the crisp, black-and-white print of the movie (which, after all these years of foggy bootlegs, would be worth the price alone), Criterion’s “Blast of Silence” disc includes an entertaining documentary hosted by Barron himself. He walks around New York, revisiting locations from the movie and his own past. There’s an intimate feel to this one-hour feature that most making-of features lack, and it fits perfectly with what was obviously a very personal project for him.

He’s a cold-blooded killer in the movie, but in real life, he seems like a pretty nice guy.

Will Pfeifer writes about new DVDs on Tuesdays and older ones on Sundays. Contact him at or 815-987-1244. You can also read his Movie Man blog at