Dennis suggests Blast of Silence (in Classics/the Criterion Collection). See, this is why I love the Criterion Collection. I mean, any prestigious film distributor can wheel out deluxe DVDs of films by Hitchcock, Kurosawa, and that dour Swede Bergman, but it takes the breadth of vision of those kooky kats at Criterion to champion lost little treasures like this 1961 hitman flick. Written by, directed by and starring Allen Baron (he looks sort of like a charisma-less George C. Scott), this is a gritty, lowdown, indie crime thriller, with a nice, authentic look, some long, sustained shots that’d fit in nicely in a French Neville vague film, and the loopiest, most hard-boiled narration this side of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. Baron plays Frank Bono (or, as the narration calls him, ‘Baby Boy
Frankie Bono’), a hulking, soft-voiced hitman in New York to rub out a mid-level mob boss grown too big for his spats. Casing his target during the Christmas season, he finds himself at loose ends until an old acquaintance recognizes him, railroads him into coming to a party, and reintroduces him to his sister Lori, who Baby Boy has always had a silent thing for. Frankie does his legwork (which includes buying a gun from the genuinely creepy, rat-keeping Larry Tucker [who later co-created ‘The Monkees’ irrelevantly enough] as the obese Big Ralph), and finds himself being edging toward the glimmer of light that he thinks Lori represents, all the while preparing for the hit. There are some nice, hard-edged developments [especially for the early 60s], the look of the film is deliciously grimy, and, if Baron isn’t the most dynamic guy around, well, that’s in line with his closed-off character. Also, there’s a nice, serendipitous use of then-current Hurricane Donna in the finale’s action set-piece. But it’s the narration that really makes this one so memorable. Written by blacklisted writer Waldo Salt (who later penned Serpico, Coming Home, and Midnight Cowboy) this voiceover is utterly entertaining in it’s near-parodistic cynicism. Unusually, the narration isn’t omniscient, and yet isn’t by Frankie either; spoken intoned in the gravelly voice of veteran character heavy Lionel Stander (from everything ever, although most will remember him as the cuddly butler/valet of the titular detective couple in ‘Hart to Hart’), the narrator seems to be inside Frank’s head, cheering him on, warning him, and commenting on his progress, but as a different person. (The opening narration is particularly off-the-wall). It’s a neat device I can’t remember being used before, although I’m sure it has. An unusual, original little thriller; keep ‘em coming, Criterion!