Reviewed by DAN STUMPF

BLAST OF SILENCE. Universal, 1961. Written, directed by and starring Allen Baron. With Molly McCarthy, Larry Tucker and Peter Clune.

   A Christmas movie for noir fans and nostalgia buffs alike, and one that’s hard to forget.

   Back in the late 50s/early 60s — the time of the “New Wave” in France — there were quite a few American film-makers doing meaningful, personal, sometimes daring work on the ragged fringes of Hollywood: Minimalist Westerns like Ride Lonesome and Terror in a Texas Town, off-beat horrors such as Bucket of Blood and The Tingler, and memorable low-budget thrillers like Underworld USA, Murder by Contract and Blast of Silence.

   When I say that viewing Blast of Silence is like watching a bad accident in slow motion, it sounds like a put-down, but there’s really no other way to describe the sick sensation this simple tale evokes: A hit-man arrives in New York at Christmas to carry out a contract that somehow slips out of control. We know what’s going to happen from the first shot, and there’s nothing we can do but watch, in the words of one critic, “a man playing out his role and quietly awaiting his inexorable betrayal.”

   Along the way, there are some really atmospheric moments, striking photography — including location shots of Harlem, 42nd Street and Times Square at Christmas that seem like artifacts now. There are edgy/jovial grown-up Christmas parties, 1960s-style; cold snowless streets decked out for the Holidays; and some really fine acting by performers who shoulda been contenders:

   Larry Tucker is perfectly loathsome as a rat-loving double-crosser, but his only other role of note in the movies is “Pagliacci” in Shock Corridor; Mary McCarthy projects the same sensitive, intelligent femininity she projected in The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery (another neglected treasure from the same period), and as for Allen Baron, his acting has an unforced naturalism about it that matches his writing and direction very effectively indeed.

   As far as the other credits, the only name you’d recognize is Lionel Stander, who does the voice-over narration (oddly, in the 2nd-person) which was written by Waldo Salt, who deserves a footnote here: Salt was blacklisted in the McCarthy era (he is billed here as “Mel Davenport”) but the ordeal seems to have done him some good; his pre-blacklist films are competent but unmemorable things like The Bride Wore Red and The Flame and the Arrow, but afterwards he went on to respected work like Midnight Cowboy, Serpico and Coming Home.

   No such luck for Allen Baron, however. Blast of Silence remains an intriguing but obscure film — and perhaps the bleakest Christmas Movie ever.