Blast of Silence Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Silent Night, Hole-y Night

Frank is grumpy because he has to travel out of town for work during Christmas season. Leaving Cleveland for the bustling metropolis of New York City, he’s soon on the trail of his meal ticket: a notorious bad guy who he has been tasked to kill. Yes, much like Die Hard, Blast of Silence is a violent, hard-hitting Christmas film perfect for those looking for Hallmark movie counter-programming.

Writer/director/star Allen Baron’s micro-budgeted crime drama arrived at the tail end of Hollywood’s noir craze, and yet feels more like the beginning of the independent film movement. With no notable stars, exterior shots that were almost certainly filmed guerilla-style without permits, and poorly lit black and white photography, Baron’s hitman tale is completely uncompromising, offering an unflinching portrait of a lackadaisical killer set loose in Manhattan.

The minimal plot is established immediately, with Frank arriving by train and setting about his task of securing a weapon and casing the daily activities of his target. This brings him in touch with a few notable characters, primarily a slimy gun dealer and an ex-girlfriend. With time to kill before he can make his move, he attempts to reconnect with his taken old flame, pining for a conventional life he has shunned for his career. He also runs afoul of the gun dealer while casing his target, leading to a deadly showdown to avoid blackmail. 

Baron isn’t really an actor, stepping in as a cost-saving measure when Peter Falk left the role for another project. He’s never entirely comfortable in front of the camera, which oddly works to his favor as he portrays the twitchy, uncharismatic assassin. This naturalistic, subdued approach to the character adds realism and keeps the film focused on story rather than showy thespian skills. His directing is also decidedly low-key, although he makes great use of the city as a major character in the film, as Frank glumly ambles along its cheery, holiday-decorated streets.

The film’s humble origins don’t offer much room for restoration improvements, as witnessed in Criterion’s original DVD release of the film in 2008, but the Blu-ray boasts a new 4K digital restoration and offers the film in two aspect ratios, 1.85:1 widescreen and 1.33:1 fullscreen, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The picture is free of defects, but there’s only so much that can be enhanced from the original murky, dimly lit black and white photography. 

Bonus features include returning selections from Criterion’s out-of-print DVD, including photos of the film’s locations as revisited in 2008, on-set Polaroids, a trailer, a four-page comic by cover artist Sean Murphy, and the best feature: a breezy interview with a very chatty Baron including his 1990 visits to the locations. 

Blast of Silence isn’t a holly jolly Christmas tale, but for fans of noir and independent film, it’s an ideal excuse to put on something a bit different in the holiday Blu-ray rotation.

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Steve Geise

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