979 (111). Blast of Silence (1961, Allen Baron)

Screened July TSPDT rank #965  IMDb Wiki

An early landmark in New York City's storied history of low-budget indie filmmaking, Blast of Silence may be most famous for its wall-to-wall second person voiceover narration ("You can depend on yourself, no one else. You learned the hard way... When people look at you, Baby Boy Frankie Bono, they see death." ). It's a neat trick that sets an otherwise mundane hitman plot over a dense interior landscape of self-loathing, paranoia and motivational self-talk. But it barely makes the top five things I love most about this film.

For one thing, Meyer Kupferman's multifaceted jazz score, moving deftly from vibraphone cool to trumpeting distress, does as much to express Frankie Bono's inner state. Mixing hard bop discord with symphonic lyricism, it foretells what Bernard Herrmann would do in Taxi Driver. The numerous authentic locations, from the storefronts on Fifth Avenue to the beatnik streets of the West Village, set the voiceover's raging sociopathy against a documentary sense of the real world, making its unease all the more pervasive (yet another of several cues Scorsese took from this film).

All of these elements come together less than 20 minutes into the film, in a stunning five minute sequence that has the anti-hero simply walking through an iconic Christmas-in-Rockefeller Center setting. The voiceover gets softer and more taciturn; the music settles into a Christmas choir followed by a pensive flute melody. Shadows grow long as day turns to night; the warm glow of toy store windows ironically cast him into a stark silhouette as he walks past, trying to recapture the seminal sensations of his childhood. The real-but-unreal storefront utopia of Fifth Avenue is transformed into a dreamscape of lostness. It's nothing less than the ultimate cinematic depiction of the Christmas blues.

Another innovative sequence follows: the hitman accidentally runs into childhood friend who invites him to a Christmas party that eventually has him pushing a peanut with his nose across the floor as a roomful of strangers laugh and cheer. It's a stunning moment of debasement for such an iconic figure, at once mocking the lone gunman myth while also unmasking him to be a lonely, desperate figure terminally unable to relate to others. This leads to another genre stunner, when he manages to take a girl home, only for his awkwardness to lead to an attempted rape.

Having done so much to overturn the criminal anti-hero's swagger in its first half hour, it's a shame that the film doesn't know quite where to go from there. Like its character, it reels from having gone so far into the uncomfortableness of the real world, and withdraws into its hired killer plot for the rest of its fairly predictable arc. But these breakthroughs are more than enough to seal the film's status as an ur-text of urban alienation cinema.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?

The following citations were counted towards the placement of Blast of Silence among the 1000 greatest films according to They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?

Christoph Huber, Senses of Cinema (2000) Norbert Jochum, Steadycam (2007) Robert Fischer, Steadycam (2007) Wilfried Reichart, Steadycam (2007) They Shoot Pictures Highly Recommended Films

HISTORICAL REVIEW

AN ambitious young writer-director-actor named Allen Baron has given himself a large but unpleasant role in his first film effort, "Blast of Silence." In the low-budget melodrama, which arrived yesterday at neighborhood theatres, Mr. Baron enacts a lonely professional killer, bothered by the festive Christmas crowds that jostle him as he ruthlessly stalks his prey.

Much of the confusion in this curious little film seems implicit in the mixed intentions of its stubbornly independent creators, Mr. Baron and his Brooklyn-born producer, Merrill Brody. Operating on a minute budget with unknown actors, a hand-held camera and a minimum of technicians, this do-it-yourself team obviously wanted to be offbeat and "arty" while still conforming to Hollywood's tested commercial formulas.

The result is simultaneously awkward and pretentious.

Even so, Mr. Baron has some interesting ideas about New York locations, and aided by the expert photography of Erich Kollmar he has made effective use of such settings as the Staten Island ferry, Rockefeller Plaza and the Village Barn night club. The outdoor scenes have a spontaneous vigor that augurs well for the director's future.

- Eugene Archer, The New York Times, December 30, 1961

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EXCERPTS FROM THE BEST REVIEW OF BLAST OF SILENCE:

Allen Baron's Blast of Silence was dumped like a corpse into a handful of theaters by Universal-International in April 1961 and rapidly vanished without a trace, only to be revived with no real frequency over the ensuing decades. Looking at it from the studio's point of view, it's not difficult to see why the film was barely a priority at the time of its release, being a cheap distribution pick-up from a couple of executive producers in New York (one of whom, Dan Enright, had distinguished himself as an especially mendacious figure in the Quiz Show scandals that consumed America for several months in 1958). In fact,Blast of Silence must have seemed downright perverse to executives at U-I, given that its protagonist wasn't played by a Star, or anyone well-known to the public from either film or television, but by its writer/director; a pudgy, 26 year old non-actor whose prior directing credits had been a couple of Hawaiian Eye episodes and an assistant director gig on that piece of dreck, Cuban Rebel Girls (1959) — a picture that, had it not been for the allure of seeing Errol Flynn hitting the skids on celluloid, probably wouldn't have been screened anywhere outside a couple of mangy drive-ins in Alabama and Kentucky. But Blast of Silence was a fast, cheap thriller with the requisite amounts of violence and gunplay, and those things could always make a couple of bucks for a studio in the end if the deal was right.

Of course, nobody was thinking in terms of "film noir," certainly nobody in Hollywood in 1961. By the time cinephiles were busily compiling the noir canon like a pack of faith-crazed monks later in that decade, Baron's film had already disappeared into the ether without them noticing; a film born obscure that soon passed into the endless night of a still greater obscurity. Which is as unfortunate as it is typical of the mass-market cinephile's perpetually distracted mindset, for Blast of Silence is possibly the great lost masterpiece of film noir; a twilit, deathward emanation of everything that had underlain the form from its beginnings. No American film before it, made in Hollywood or anywhere else, had trafficked so promiscuously in unadulterated nihilism, or so used the condition of Hate — constant, irritated Hate, with no coherent Other to direct it toward — as its emotional motif. The loneliness and doom and spiritual unease that operated at noir's core and became more pronounced as the form slowly began shedding its visual trappings in the 1950s, here became its dominant emotional surface, infecting everything, consuming every character in the film rather than simply its protagonist.

In earlier, more celebrated noirs, for instance, no matter how twisted the nominal hero or his adversaries might have been from within, screenwriters always managed to balance out their human landscape with so-called "normal" people, usually in the form of cops, sweethearts, and other assorted bystanders to the gathering darkness of these scenarios. That these characters were usually the least believable of all made them no less necessary to a Hollywood storytelling model that had long ago steadfastly rejected nuance. But in Blast of Silence, Allen Baron ignored the rules and brought forth a dissociated, ugly vision of his fellow man that, unlike its closest spiritual predecessors in noir, Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and Irving Lerner's Murder By Contract (1958), never resorts to either grotesquerie or easy symbology.

Blast of Silence goes further than any previous noir in eschewing a lumbering chiaroscuro in favor of a naturalism closer to something like Cassavetes' Shadows, further than even a later, comparatively sun-drenched noir such as Gerd Oswald's Crime of Passion (1957). Having to work within the thinnest of shoestring budgets, Baron elected to use, as few filmmakers had before, the expressive potential of New York City; bringing his camera into the streets of midtown Manhattan at Christmastime, to Rockefeller Center, Harlem, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. Whether it was a conscious strategy or the result of having no resources to create a setting for his tale from scratch, this unglamorous, rather desolate photography of the city by Merrill S. Brody (who also acted as the film's producer) worked immeasurably to Baron's advantage. Indeed, as a directorial debut, Blast of Silence is an altogether prodigious achievement. A model thriller and character study, it takes us step by step through Frankie Bono's process in setting up his prey for the eventual kill. And at every turn, Baron's control of his mise-en-scene remains assured and proficient, with few if any missteps. If the film can be said to have a diminishing flaw, it's that the wall-to-wall narration at times goes beyond underscoring the action on-screen and becomes simply redundant. There are moments when it tells us nothing that the film's bleakest images could not have handled on their own. But where one might expect a certain amount of clumsiness in a no-budget film from a first-time film director, Blast of Silence is an unusually expert piece of film craftsmanship, coming as it did from a filmmaker who had no track record at all and, as the years passed, would never really succeed in making a name for himself in his chosen field.

- Tom Sutpen, Bright Lights Film Journal

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OTHER EXCEPTIONAL REVIEWS

Blast of Silence, despite its graphic vigor and its documentary-like immediacy, shares some of its hero’s radical isolation from his surroundings: a stubborn neither-here-nor-thereness and—especially now, nearly half a century later—a haunting sense of being somehow suspended in time. When the picture was released, film noir was effectively over, and the era of hit-man chic ushered in by Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction was still more than three decades in the future. It’s commercially dangerous for any work of popular art to be either behind the times or too far ahead of them. Blast of Silence—yet another strange distinction—is both.

- Terrence Rafferty, from essay for The Criterion DVD

Mr. Baron’s stripped-down visuals are complemented by an almost continuous voice-over narration, composed under a pseudonym (“Mel Davenport”) by the blacklisted writer Waldo Salt (“Midnight Cowboy”) and read (with no credit at all) by the blacklisted actor Lionel Stander: “You were born with hate, and anger built it. Took a slap on the backside to blast out the scream. And then you knew you were alive.”

This curious mode of address — the second person accusative? — places the viewer in Frankie’s uncomfortable skin, cornering us into taking the side of this faceless, largely passive psychopath as he drifts along to his noir-mandated doom.

But for all of its pulp poetry — the picture begins in a railroad tunnel, transformed by the narration into a birth canal that will blast the silently screaming Frankie into the harsh reality of Penn Station — the film retains a down-and-dirty, documentary aspect. The studiously gray, unglamorous views of 1961 Manhattan — St. Marks Place, where Frankie takes a room at the Valencia Hotel; the blanked-out East 30s, where Frankie’s mark has a girlfriend stashed in a walk-up apartment — are worth the price of admission alone. Here’s what was being left out of those Madison Avenue melodramas and Park Avenue romances of the period.

- Dave Kehr, The New York Times review of Criterion DVD

Baron’s crumpled, shoestring noir boasts the authentic seediness and soul-sickness of a Weegee photograph, with vérité views of Harlem pinpointed next to a storefront Santa’s inane ho-ho-hoing and the drum-smacking and smoke of a squalid nightclub. Others in the urban nocturne include a rotund underworld hanger-on (Larry Tucker) with soft voice, fungus-like beard and caged pet rats, and a targeted mobster (Peter H. Clune) who brings his mistress a huge panda plush doll. If rejection from an old friend’s sister (Molly McCarthy) doesn’t seal the protagonist’s loneliness, then the Lionel Stander voiceover rasping in his ears surely does: "You don’t have to know a man to live with him, but you have to know a man like a brother to kill him." Or: "He thinks he looks like a gentleman if his shoes are shinned. You could kill him right now with pleasure." Paddy Chayefsky, Cassavetes’s Shadows (and Johnny Staccato), Melville. Baron's New York finds its completion in Taxi Driver: if the city is a dusky valley, then the man is a speck trying to grow larger by ambling down the sidewalk toward the stationary camera. The assassin labors to see himself as the hand of fate but is shown up as a greasy hood in fedora and trench coat, alone with delusions -- you’d have to wait until The Killing of a Chinese Bookie for a deeper autopsy of the gangland macho ethos. With Danny Meehan, Dean Sheldon, and Charles Creasap.

- Fernando F. Croce, Cinepassion

Either the last film noir or the bridge between the genre and the American independent movement to follow, Allen Baron’s megalomaniacal 1961 low-budget hitman saga is a fine member of any of its multiple categorizations. Baron wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film, which relates a gutter-noir tale of an assassin whiling away time in New York City over X-Mas as he plans a hit. Its influence on everything from young Scorsese to, in one subplot, Grosse Pointe Blank is undeniable. And if Baron’s a bit of an inexpressive lump on-screen he was at least smart enough to cast Shock Corridor’s Larry Tucker (see picture) as a terminally distracted gunsalesman. But what really sets it apart from the pack – along with its amazing location photography, often shot with natural lighting – is what’s on the soundtrack. Let’s not mince words: Blast of Silence features the greatest voiceover in film history. This isn’t the first-person confessional of Double Indemnity, or even the third-person of Band of Outsiders. It’s second-person - a perspective I don’t think any other film has ever adopted. Written by Waldo Salt and delivered with great relish by Lionel Stander (neither of whom were credited), it alternates between offering a snarling evocation of his nihilistic thoughts (“You’re feeling better now that you’ve got that Christmas out of your system”) and mocking his self-enforced isolation from the world. Oddly, the very rottenness of the narration gives the film a poignancy, particularly when this miserable bastard makes a fumbling attempt at relating to some old friends.

- Matt Prigge, Fest Phanatic

By the time of Blast of Silence, Walter Benjamin, if not Edgar Allan Poe himself, had long ago laid the connection between detective fiction and flâneurs, and a new type of consciousness (emblematized specially by the modern phenomenon of movie-going), in which the crux of identity lies in nothing innate and little lasting, but in the act of perceiving, and, perceiving, in particular, the city: detective’s work. Yet neorealism would seem to be a necessary condition for flâneur movies, which, despite Night and the City’s influence, may be why relatively few major noirs followed in Benjamin’s tradition, devoted entirely to cutting through swaths of city spaces and social milieus, to exploring parties and restaurants and businesses around town in an ostensible search for clues, and to depicting a man as he finds or loses himself—perhaps the same thing—in urban phantasmagoria.

Filming perceptions, Resnais and Antonioni pose the old phenomenological quandary of what’s subjective and what’s objective; so too Baron, if a bit more crudely. Stander, the soundtrack, is subjectivity, and the images, straight-up documentary footage straight from the streets, are objectivity. Yet Blast suggests the Dostoevskian possibility—or rather, preaches it—that all civilization’s pretty Christmas lights are glitzy decorations over the truth of one man’s private hell (all men, perhaps, but loneliness is essential to Baron’s neorealist conception of hell). For most of the film, the bright lights of consumer culture seem to be about all that emerge from the dark.

This is more or less the sentimental romance of Raymond Chandler; it is Baron’s contribution to blame the doomed love not on a flea-bitten idealist run out of dreams, but (as Robert Altman would later do with his The Long Goodbye) on a swinging culture that will make you push peanuts on the floor with your chin for the entertainment of the crowd. There are loners and there are the masses, as there are in La Notte and L’Eclisse, and both are guarantees of anonymity; there are also, in Silence, the dead, the most anonymous of all. And for Bono, trying hard to keep quiet and repress his worst instincts and get a job done, anonymity is always the goal.

- David Phelps, The Auteurs Notebook

MORE REVIEWS

"You were born in pain," a voiceover announces over the black screen that opens writer-director-star Allen Baron's 1961 film Blast Of Silence. "You were born with hate and anger built in," it continues as it becomes clear that this ugly telling of the film's protagonist's birth accompanies a point-of-view shot of a train emerging from a tunnel. "Took a slap on the backside to blast out the scream and then you knew you were alive." That won't be the last time Blast Of Silence draws symbolic power from images shot on the fly, or finds violence embedded in everyday life.

Working with a miniscule budget, Baron creates charged compositions out of found locations and makes a virtue out of the film's cheapness. The soot and litter almost seem summoned by his character's mental state. Established admirer Martin Scorsese could easily have had it in mind when he made Taxi Driver; Blast Of Silence shares that film's tortured philosophizing. Working under a pseudonym, blacklisted screenwriter Waldo Salt provides the beautifully purple second-person narration that puts viewers in the position of the film's protagonist as he makes his way through a city where death waits at the first sign of weakness. Or tenderness.

- Keith Phipps, The Onion A/V Club

Indeed, the cinematography of Blast of Silence is so outstanding that it turns New York City into a character rather than a mere location. Even though Blast of Silence was Baron’s first movie, his professional background as a comic book illustrator gave him a firm understanding of visual concepts such as framing and composition. The result was a series of truly breathtaking shots. Consider, for instance, the long shot of Frankie walking down the street towards the camera with the skyline of the buildings off to the sides, which feels as menacing as it does inspiring.

- Marco Lanzagorta, Pop Matters

With one foot planted firmly on the Kiss Me Deadly era of film noir and the other closer to The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Blast of Silence begins with a brutal, uncompromising invocation of birth and ends with an almost mystically sensitive death. The story of socially isolated hit man Frankie (Allen Baron) who comes to terms with his deferred need for human connection just in time for a) Christmas, and b) a job that will require him to be especially cold-hearted, Blast of Silence is less a manifestation of the labrynthine plot trajectories of great noir than a early harbinger to the DIY moxie of the American independent movement.

Shot on a shoestring, director/writer/lead actor Baron's blunt, almost perfunctory story doesn't reveal much about the inner workings of its central character but instead takes advantage of the downright dull aspects of New York City, a city films (especially films noir) often depict with mythic reverence as a succession of places you'd want to visit but aren't even sure you could live therein. So far as the movies are concerned, New York is as artificially engineered an environment as Disneyland or Stepford, Connecticut (or Hollywood). What Blast of Silence gets and gets right is the sense that New York, for all its "top of the world" potential, is also a working metropolis with accompanying concessions, mediocrities, and isolations.

For all the narrator's insistence on stressing the dangers around every corner, the film's bland images suggest the world truly couldn't care less about Frankie's dogged pursuit of a gun with a silencer; at one point a headline screams one of his crimes, but he's the only character shown actually reading the article. Haunting, remote, and workmanlike, Blast of Silence may be the only film I've ever seen with a trip on the Station Island Ferry in which I expected a tumbleweed to flit across the deck.

- Eric Henderson, Slant

Although done on the hustle — Brody also produced and edited; Carol, his wife, was assistant director; Kollmar plays a bit part as the Bellhop; part of the picture was shot using free test stock from Kodak, etc — Blast of Silence is a first-rate technical achievement. Meyer Kupferman’s modern jazz and classical score deserves special mention. While a soundtrack album was never released — not a huge surprise, as the film itself was given zero promotion by Universal, who picked it up for distribution as a second feature — one would be welcome even today as the perfect entree to Kuperfman’s vast and original sound world.

- Brian Berger, Stop Smiling

There's a kind of existential dread at the heart of every film noir—they all take place in that dark and brooding world in which no good deed goes unpunished, and you're thankful that there's style to burn, because it and everything else are going to go up in flames by the time we get to the final fadeout. But Allen Baron's Blast of Silence may be the most self-conscious of the sort, playing out almost like a mob version of Camus's The Stranger. It's a strange and energetic movie that runs like the wind, and you just wish that it would trust itself a little bit more.

What gets rather too distracting is that the movie is wallpapered with voice-over, either Frankie's interior monologue or the dime-store novel that the character imagines himself starring in. It's delivered by Lionel Stander, whose gravelly voice matches the hardened exterior of the protagonist—but it's just so relentless and overwrought, tarting up just about every scene ("The conga drum beating your head until you taste the hate on your tongue," and so on), that it starts to leech the drama out of Frankie's story. You can understand the inclination—the lead character is so fierce about keeping his own counsel, and you almost sense that Baron trusts himself more behind the camera than in front of it. But at some point you want to holler back—enough already! Baron actually figures that out by the end of the run of the picture, which is a blessing, even if a bit too late.

- Jon Danziger, Digitally Obsessed

Arriving three years after Orson Welles´ "Touch of Evil," Baron´s film is either a straggler at the end of the classic film noir period, or one of the earlier neo-noirs. Film noir was a term applied many years after the noir cycle began, so it´s unsurprising that critics can´t agree on the precise timing of each of the noir cycles or even how to define the genre. Many films have noir qualities but aren´t really film noirs. That´s not the case with "Blast of Silence," a noir by any definition. Like most noirs, the film´s universe is one that is severed from any sense of a higher being, a world covered by only a thin veneer of civilization where even the slightest mistake, a stumble or a wrong turn, leads inevitably to tragedy. Frankie was "born in pain," and he lives in pain, always trying to drown out the scream that heralded his entry into this cruel world.

- Christopher Long, DVD Town

The film plays like an unholy marriage between the realist films noir of the '40s like "The Naked City" and the early independent dramas of John Cassavetes, with a narrator (uncredited Lional Stander) speaking in second person like the twisted inner voice of a soul that has been basting in antipathy and spite for years. The hard-boiled riffs play like pulp beat poetry distilled into pure misanthropic cynicism.

- Sean Axmaker, MSN Movies

The story is standard issue, but what Baron does with it is amazing; his graphic sense is on view from the first image, a cosmic abstraction that bursts stunningly into grim reality, and his conception of the character, blending the heat of hatred and the chill of method, is unusual and fascinating.

- Richard Brody, The New Yorker

You know you're a part of something when it feels like both the last "real" noir, a kiss of death to that movement as we knew it, while also one of the first true neo-realist American independents.

- Craig Phillips, GreenCine

I can't think about Allan Baron's 1961 Blast of Silence without thinking of Cleveland, even though not a frame of the film takes place or was shot there. But the film's hitman anti-hero, "Baby Boy" Frankie Bono (played with note-perfect inarticulate inexpressiveness by Baron himself), is, as Lionel Stander's narrator notes, "out of Cleveland," and this bit of info was sufficient to compel a small coterie of film freaks from that burg to even-more-fanatically embrace a film they would have loved anyway.

- Glenn Kenny

If one looks at Blast of Silence as a straightforward film noir, it can come across as a little irritating and repetitive. The narration, an old noir standby, is virtually omnipresent, to the point that it almost feels overdone and way too intrusive at times. But it's important to realize that the narration (written by Waldo Salt, under the pseudonym "Mel Davenport") isn't just there because other movies of its kind have included it too; rather, you can almost see it as a way to poke fun at such genre conventions.

- A. J. Hakari, Classic Movie Guide

You know the movie’s not perfect. The plot gets a little convenient, and if he can’t see the ending coming you figure Baby Boy Frankie Bono may not be the sharpest cannon in the shed.

But you’re not watching this one for the story. No. You’re watching it for the mood. The feeling. The energy that Baron finds on the streets of your hometown and channels into every frame. In Harlem. In Greenwich Village, beatniks pounding their drums and their libidos ‘til everything’s raw.

- Vince Keenan

Blast of Silence feels like a French New Wave film, coming out in 1961 on the heels Godard’s Breathless [1959], and foreshadowingAlphaville [1965]. Blast of Silence is a must see for movie fans. A beautifully crafted film. The simplicity of its narrative, its character, images and theme, cuts like a switchblade but with the precision of a surgeon using a scalpel. Fallen out of love with movies? Watch Blast of Silence and rediscover why you fell in love in the first place.

- Grumpy Guy Cinema

The second-person narration not only helps fill in for professional assassin Frankie Bono’s trademark taciturnity, but it forces us to imagine ourselves in the shoes of a methodical killer. The film may have influenced the silent-cool antiheroes of Jean-Pierre Melville’s later noirs (like “Le Samurai”), but while Melville’s reserve promoted existential alienation, Baron’s narration asks us to empathize with a monster on the brink of reform.

- Film Walrus Reviews

Bono’s odyssey is one of methodical purpose. Baron exerts great care in documenting his preparatory activities without clouding them in concessions to morality. There’s an extended sequence where Bono cleans and readies his gun, set to the strains of a solo jazz trumpet, which is particularly effective in this regard. Elsewhere, the vibraphone-dominant soundtrack, feels somewhat dated and intrusive. A Bohemian party where Bono attempts to connect with old friends is similarly time-locked, couples waltzing and carousing politely while in another corner of the room a hipster palms and awkward bongo beat. A comical peanut-pushing race serves as quixotic culmination.

- Derek Taylor, Bagatellen

While Baron has no clue how to stage or direct people talking, walking, driving, fighting, kissing or smoking in dingy hotel rooms, two or three grand visual metaphors demonstrate what he might have achieved if only he’d had more dough. The picture opens with the camera moving at great speed through blackness towards a distant tiny dot of light. As the light grows and grows, Stander recites in second person a litany of the reasons ‘you’ wished you’d never been born. But too late, Stander says, as the light blossoms, you were hurled against your will into this awful world! Boom—the light becomes the end of a subway tunnel and New York City, in all its cloudy-day glory looms, promising only futility.

- David N. Meyer, The Brooklyn Rail

OTHER REVIEWS

- Sean Howe, Entertainment Weekly

- Todd Konrad, Independent Film Quarterly

- Mike White, Noir of the Week

- Don Wilmott, Film Critic.com

- Jeff Duncanson, Film Screed

- Lawrence Helm

- Brian Tallerico, The Dead Bolt

- Conrad Rothbaum, Film School Rejects

- Steve Puchalski, Shock Cinema

ABOUT THE CRITERION DVD

This Criterion is touted as a 'DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION' although the most appealing aspect for many Criterion fans will be that the 4:3 ratio film is NOT pictureboxed (see our description of 'pictureboxing' in our Kind Hearts and Coronets review). The Criterion is progressive and dual-layered, and hence the image quality towers above the frugal Alive Film single-layered edition from Germany. The Criterion still shows some infrequent noise but it is easy to state that this is the best digital image of the film to date... and possibly ever. As usual the Criterion has clear mono audio (weak in spots) and optional English subtitles.
Criterion offer some supplements: Requiem for a Killer: The Making of “Blast of Silence” is almost an hour long and humorously starts with Baron admitting that he didn't even know what 'Cannes' was when the film was attempted to enter but fell short of the deadline. The featurette has some interesting and amusing production anecdotes but I found it a bit long. There are two gallery sections of static photography: Rare on-set Polaroids are somewhat worn but add to the pragmatic creation of the film. There is also Locations revisited in 2008 which shows some past shots compared to modern ones often with Baron in the present image. A theatrical trailer is included and a 12-page liner notes booklet featuring an essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty and a four-page graphic-novel adaptation of the film by acclaimed artist Sean Phillips.
So nice to have this Noir gem in a competent, complete package and it is wonderful news indeed that Criterion appears to have abandoned pictureboxing.

This Criterion is touted as a 'DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION' although the most appealing aspect for many Criterion fans will be that the 4:3 ratio film is NOT pictureboxed (see our description of 'pictureboxing' in our Kind Hearts and Coronets review). The Criterion is progressive and dual-layered, and hence the image quality towers above the frugal Alive Film single-layered edition from Germany. The Criterion still shows some infrequent noise but it is easy to state that this is the best digital image of the film to date... and possibly ever. As usual the Criterion has clear mono audio (weak in spots) and optional English subtitles.

So nice to have this Noir gem in a competent, complete package and it is wonderful news indeed that Criterion appears to have abandoned pictureboxing.

- Gary Tooze, DVD Beaver

PICTURE

Blast of Silence is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layered disc. The image has thankfully not been picture-boxed. Criterion presents a very strong digital transfer, though the source material has a few issues here and there. The film's sharpness varies throughout, looking sharp and crisp most of the time but murky and soft at others. There's no consistency to it so my guess is it just has to do with the source. The film is in black and white and during the film's sharper, cleaner moments the blacks are very deep and dark. It also presents strong whites and grays with excellent contrast. During the murkier moments the blacks come off more on the grayish side. Considering the film's very indy roots I'm not too shocked at the inconsistencies presented throughout, but I am quite surprised by how clean the image looks in terms of dirt and debris. While there is the occasional mark (the opening has a vertical line somewhat noticeable to the right) the print used has been cleaned up substantially. Despite its few issues, this is still a very solid transfer.

AUDIO

The film is presented in a Dolby Digital 1.0 track, audio coming out of the center. This is actually a surprisingly strong track, though not without its own flaws. The opening bit presents very harsh sound effects and some of the music can sound like it's been cranked a little too much, almost distorting. But it's still very clean. I didn't notice any hiss or any background noise. Dialogue is also very strong. The film has a voice over narration by Lionel Stander, whose voice is deep and gravely, and there's no issue whatsoever in understanding anything said. Despite some moments where I felt the music, sound effects, and/or background noise were probably a little too loud, it’s an nicely cleaned up track.

- Chris Galloway, The Criterion Forum

Extras:

Blast of Silence - Criterion Collection is packaged in a clear plastic case with printing on all sides of the cover. The front image, menu design, and all of the interior images were done by comics artist Sean Phillips, whose own Criminal series with Ed Brubaker tells tough-minded crime tales in the tradition of Blast of Silence. Having Phillips' art throughout gives the packaging a wonderful design unity. In addition to the regular Criterion booklet, which has an essay by critic Terrence Rafferty, an extra four-page insert by Phillips adapts some of the Waldo Salt voiceover from the film into a brand-new promotional comic. It's a very cool extra.

Beyond the packaging bonuses, there are four features on the DVD itself. Two are photo galleries, including one of Polaroids from Allen Baron's set and a new collection showing the Blast of Silencelocations today. The new photos are juxtaposed with images from the movie, and some of the new ones even feature Baron. There are title cards in between explaining what you are seeing.

The original theatrical trailer is like a mini film unto itself, lurid and intriguing all on its own. It makes the audience's pact with the killer implicit. "You will walk side-by-side with Frankie Bono!"

The final extra is a brand-new, hour-long documentary called Requiem for a Killer: The Making ofBlast of Silence. It's both a biography of the film and of Allen Baron, of his love affair with the city he grew up in, how he got into cinema, and how he made this impressive debut. Culled from an older German TV program, it's built around Baron taking us on a walking tour of Manhattan, telling us a ton of great stories of the time when Blast of Silence was made. The revelation that he had been a cartoonist makes the comic book stuff even more apropos.

- Jamie S. Rich, DVD Talk

OTHER DVD REVIEWS:

- Eric Somer, Matchflick

- Clark Douglas, DVD Verdict

- Glenn Erickson, DVD Talk

ABOUT ALLEN BARON

Born in 1935 (and currently still living), Allen Baron had a steady, relatively prosaic career after writing and directing Blast of Silence. He followed it up in 1964 with Terror in the City, another thriller of his own script that also went nowhere, only this time for Allied Artists. In 1972 he co-directed (with actor G. D. Spradlin) a draft-dodger melodrama, Outside In; and ten years later directed his fourth and final feature, a species of Ozark romance entitled Foxfire Light (these films remain, like their predecessor, trapped in the cinema rabbit hole). During this period Baron directed episodic television. A lot of it. Throughout the 1970s and '80s his name could be found on everything from The Night Stalker and Barnaby Jones, to The Love Boat and the show he directed more episodes of than all others, Charlie's Angels. If he was known for anything, it was television. And he stopped directing it for good in 1986.

- Tom Sutpen, Bright Lights Film Journal

At the time Blast of Silence was shot (in 1959 and 1960), Baron was an occasional actor and a former comic-book illustrator who thought he could make a movie and had managed to raise the twenty grand or so he needed to turn out something that would look reasonably professional. Although Baron was a native New Yorker, Brooklyn bred, he chose to film a story about a man who is not: a tense, wary out-of-towner who, like so many who come to Manhattan from smaller, less daunting places, responds to the perceived hostility of the city with some pretty serious hostility of his own. In those days, of course, making a movie in New York—three thousand miles from Hollywood and on a budget even a studio B movie would be ashamed of—was an uncommon and risky venture, and at least a trace of chip-on-the-shoulder attitude is discernible in every Gotham indie of that era: a sense of alienation was, as this movie’s narrator might say, built in.

And Baron has the wit (or the instinct) to turn that uncomfortable feeling to the movie’s advantage. Maybe the most impressive thing about this debut feature is how rigorously its inexperienced director sustains a mood of endemic existential anxiety, of a pervasive wrongness in the world. In a way, it’s fortunate that Peter Falk, whom Baron had cast as Frankie Bono, was unable to play the part. (Falk opted to take the role of a different hit man, in Burt Balaban’s 1960 Murder, Inc.) Baron’s a lesser actor, obviously, but his relative lack of ease before the camera lends a little extra edge of tension to this already tightly wound character. There’s a weird poignancy in his stiffness. As Baron plays the character, Frankie looks like a man who’d be an out-of-towner anywhere on earth. He’s a stranger in his own skin.

But Allen Baron, unlike his luckless hero, has survived. He hasn’t directed a TV show in better than twenty years. He has begun painting again, and is preparing a series of abstract canvases for a gallery show, his first, in Los Angeles. He still sounds like a New Yorker. New Yorkers feel noirish a lot of the time, but not always. Sometimes they even manage to remember the truth uttered by one of the city’s great sages, a contemporary of Baron’s named Lawrence Peter Berra. It ain’t over till it’s over, he said, and New Yorkers never argue with Yogi.

- Terrence Rafferty, from essay for The Criterion DVD

958 (100). Moonrise (1948, Frank Borzage)

screened August 3 2008 on .avi TSPDT rank #945  IMDb Wiki

Frank Borzage's greatest films celebrate and investigate the miracle of romantic love; but perhaps the greatest miracle of his career was in generating a film of darkly stunning compassion upon one of the most wretched characters conceived in cinema. Danny Hawkins (Dane Clark, in a proto-Method performance of inspired contempt for everything around him) is tortured throughout his young life by his father's legacy of murder, which he fully inherits within the first 10 minutes of the film, setting off a downward spiral of guilt, rage and violent self-destruction. (The blueprints to Raging Bull are all over this film; a couple of shots seem practically plagiarized).

Borzage's men have typically been roughewn jars of clay shaped and refined by feminine light, but Danny Hawkins is a festering pool of mud oozing from the film's swampy environs.  He's saved by Borzage's ultimate faith in redemptive grace, embodied by the fiancee of the man Danny kills, who unfathomably falls in love with Danny despite nearly being killed by him in a stunning car accident.  Her unlikely attraction to him is made credible through our own, an empathy accomplished through Borzage's ability to plant the viewer squarely in the passionate, angst-ridden hell of Danny's worldview.

Starting with a wildly expressive flashback opening on through a series of terrifying crisis moments shot and cut with dizzying intensity (a swamp killing; a rainstorm car crash; a bedroom strangulation; a suicidal leap from a ferris wheel), it's a world cloaked in perpetual night, virile in its violence, seductive in its shadows. The civic-minded sobriety of the daylight scenes, where everyone from the local sheriff to a self-exiled, swamp-dwelling Negro (a powerfully melancholy Rex Ingram) espouse liberal compassion for poor Danny, can't compete with the allure of destructive darkness that pervades this film. Even the sentimental strings in the soundtrack, employed heavily during interludes of romantic redemption, stir reserves of disconsolate ache.  If the redemptive, sober climax that resolves the narrative feels less than fully earned, it's because Borzage has perhaps succeeded too well at mining the bottomless chasm of a man's affliction.  But such a degree of achievement in suffering wrought into art embodies its own salvation.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?

Frank Borzage's last masterpiece (1948) and one of his best-known films, although in many ways it's atypical of his work. Made on a middling budget for Republic Pictures--the studio of serials and cowboys--the film adopts a rich and elaborate expressionist style; with its shadows and tension-racked frames, it resembles no other film in the Borzage canon. The social conflicts that plagued Borzage's spiritually attuned lovers in earlier films here become psychological ones, as a young man (Dane Clark) fights to overcome his "bad blood"--his father was a convicted killer. Still, the Borzagian principle of transcendence applies, expressed through a complex mise-en-scene centered on circular camera movements. The earlier, disappointing Smiling Through (1941)--with its image of a blocking, ever-present past--seems a rough draft for this final achievement.

- Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader

Many of Borzage’s projects, particularly toward the end of his career, were indisputably trivial in conception, but the director’s personality never faltered, and when the glorious opportunity of Moonrise presented itself, Borzage was not stale or jaded. This, if anything, is the moral of the auteur theory.

- Andrew Sarris

In many ways, it is unlike any of [Borzage’s] earlier works. Its plot, dealing with murder and guilt, departs dramatically from the simple love stories the director usually tells [...] Stylistically, Moonrise marks a visual revolution of sorts for Borzage, with its tremendously dynamic compositions, tight framing and low-key lighting. […] Yet even though Moonrise looks different from Borzage’s other work, it reveals as deep a commitment as ever to the concerns that occupy his other films.

- John Belton, Hollywood Professionals, Vol. 3: Howard Hawks, Frank Borzage, Edgar G. Ulmer, (New York: A. S. Barnes & Co.; London: The Tantivy Press, 1974), p. 112

Moonrise is Frank Borzage's sensual scrutiny of a man's free will. In the film's striking opening moments, a dazzling spectacle of black-and-white chiaroscuro conveys a throbbing sense of madness cattle-branded into the imagination of a young Danny Hawkins, who is terrorized by bullies from childhood to adulthood because of his father's execution. When Danny (Dane Clark) kills one of his tormentors, he must struggle with the terrible push-pull effect of the past and the memory of his father on his psyche. Borzage magnificently frames the film along very severe, richly layered diagonal angles, catching nervous hands and faces from odd positions and giving startling visual expression to Danny's loose grip on his moral compass. A shot might begin with Danny towering above a character, only to end with him cowering beneath the same person, and in a tour-de-force sequence at a town fair, Borzage's camera moves in heady and terrifying tandem with the stop-go movements of a Ferris wheel. The director plays with shifting perspectives to convey the disorientation of a man struggling to stay on top even as he is drowning.

- Ed Gonzalez, Slant

Moonrise snaps on-screen with a shadowplay execution-by-hanging, shot with expressionistic verve, that cuts, on the snap of the neck, to the dead man’s newly fatherless child squalling in his crib over the nightmare image of cold court-ordered death—Borzage is still frequently written off as a better-than-average concoctor of shadows n’ muslin confections, but just try to find anything equivalent to the gutty social outrage of this stark edit in contemporary Hollywood fare. From this point the film rolls into a montage of schoolyard degradation—always the same punk, our fatherless child, always the same bully—that grounds the film in a smotheringly small town where reputation is inherited and it brands like the mark of Cain (the on looking kids mocking chant: “Danny Hawkins' dad was hanged”), and where grudges have a lifetime to percolate.

Hawkins, played without a hint of petitioning for sympathy by Fifties and Sixties television standby Dane Clark, understandably grows up into a furtive, crabbed, hate-encysted young man. Danny’s introduced full-grown in the thickets behind a local dancehall, at the receiving end of one-beating-too-many from his tireless victimizer—something snaps, a jagged rock gets into the mix, the bully is finally hushed up, dead. He goes back, throws some water on his face, and cuts in for a stiff dance with the corpse’s clueless fiancée, prim schoolteacher Gilly (Gail Russell). Driving her and some friends home, boozy, he buries the gas pedal, buzzing with rage, and flips the car. Wailing, soaked to the skin, pulling his co-opted date from the wreck through the side door, Danny’s a wreck of inchoate emotion—he wails as if in the trauma of being born.

From this literal and figurative breakdown, the film proceeds as the redemptive chronicle of Danny’s emotional education, his gradual indoctrination into humanity, and his acceptance of guilt for his crime. Gilly is the primary instrument that pries him open, operating through the breach opened by the somewhat baffling romance that’s ignited between them; the two spend plenty of runtime with their faces smooshed together in close-up, scenes that should gain plenty when writ large on the screen, as Borzage was an infamously attentive orchestrator of the minutest tremors of expression. Also crucial in Danny’s rehab is his sole friend, the aforementioned Mose, a retired brakeman-turned-recluse richly played by the great Rex Ingram; it’s a too-rare specimen of a black actor’s performance being allowed to flourish amid an all-white cast without the taint of awkward tokenism, Stepin Fetchit clowning, or phony-worshipful messianic Negritude. Ingram can handle thesis lines and common-sense morality with unpretentious thoughtfulness (“How does he know what’s good and what’s bad?” “Someone told him.”), but he’s best when singing a dolorous back-porch blues—the film’s title may come from the syrupy tune that’s warbled over Danny and Gilly’s first, death-infected dance, but Mose provides this dark-as-pitch picture’s true theme: “Rope hanging from the gallows/ Pit waiting for my bones...”

Nick Pinkerton, Reverse Shot

Moonrise immerses us in swamp country for a meditation on ‘nature’ of all kinds - including human. The thing about Southern noir is that nature is not only everywhere but a player in the drama. Contrast this with your typical urban thrillers where, amongst all the built structures and machinery we narrow our focus onto the one unpredictable element in the mix – the protagonist. In Moonrise we see, and quickly come to feel , the swamp as metaphor for this small town setting, subtly reinforcing our view of its human inhabitants.

Director Borzage’s clever tactic of showing us all the action from the point of view of Danny, Dane Clark’s central character, is one reason for this sense of immersion, but even more subtle is this native Southern boy’s near-complete lack of an accent, let alone any ‘aw-shucks’ yokelisms. He’s a universal character, his very neutrality earning him center stage in this sphere of fetid growth where the great noir standbys - buried guilts and past secrets – bubble to the surface.

The film’s struggle, which Dane Clark portrays economically and brilliantly, is between society’s labelling of Danny as a ‘criminal type’ versus his belief of his own inner goodness. This is established from the outset through the stunning opening montage limning the story’s background (the execution by hanging of Danny’s father while the boy is in infancy and the ensuing torment and harassment by other children– especially rich preppie brat Lloyd Bridges) which makes it clear you are in the hands of a cinematic master. The brutal linkage this montage climaxes with – cutting from the father’s noose in shadowed profile to a ‘mobile’ hanging over the infant child’s cot – still packs a jolt, especially on the big screen. Clark, an unassuming, 1940s prole-looking leatherneck who often picked up John Garfield comparisons, plays Danny (not surprisingly) as a pent-up ball of resentment who seethes with internalised anger.

- Roger Westcombe, Big House Film Reviews

If the love story in Moonrise is a classic Borzagian scenario, the film's visual style is decidedly less typical of the director's oeuvre. From the extraordinary opening scenes, with truncated framings, the forceful play of light and shadow and dynamic cross-cutting, Moonrise represents a departure from the more measured visual style of earlier Borzage works.

With the services of cinematographer John L. Russell (who went on to shoot Hitchcock's Psycho [1960] amongst others), Borzage employs tight framings and consistent close-ups, (particularly of the beleaguered Danny), off kilter angles, and an odd but effective focus on the hands and feet of the central protagonists. Even the lovers' romantic clinches are presented from unconventional angles, often obscuring facial expressions, and thereby making the emotional tenor of these scenes more difficult to read.

Borzage's stylistic innovations in Moonrise, while uncharacteristic of the director's work, align the film with the classic film noir canon. In Moonrise, as with many a noir work, the expressive visual style makes a significant contribution to the films' atmosphere of escalating tension and its pervasive sense of unease.

Borzage's predilection for shooting on studio sets, regardless of the storyline locale, gave the backgrounds of his films, as one reviewer describes, “an unreal fairytale quality”. This is very much in evidence in Moonrise. Despite its rural small town setting with adjoining swamplands, Borzage forgoes any suggestion of bucolic expansiveness. Rendering the town streets and surrounding countryside claustrophobic and oppressive, he creates a subtle feeling of disquiet and vague unreality entirely appropriate to the central protagonist's troubled state of mind.

Borzage once remarked that “Every good story is based on a struggle”. Haas' adaptation of Strauss' novel gave Borzage just such a good story. With powerful performances from his lead actors, particularly Dane Clark in arguably the best role of his career, Moonrise was a romance after Borzage's heart, with an additional layer of psychological intensity. It remains, justifiably, a critically acclaimed high point in his career.

- Rose Capp, Senses of Cinema

Both the script and the performances were evocative of the mood that Frank Borzage strove to create. Lyrically, Borzage eschewed Sleepy Time Down South for the Sidewalks of New York in the casting of Dane Clark as Danny Hawkins. Clark gives it his all and brings off a difficult part exceedingly well. I didn’t notice that Clark (or any of the other actors for that matter) lacked southern accents until he was obliged to occasionally let loose with a “I reckon” or “Yankee” that momentarily punctured my suspension of reality. Clark succinctly projected the internal moral dilemma faced by Hawkins without resorting posturing or overacting. Moonrise may well be his finest screen performance.

Gail Russell plays the schoolmarm with the right mixture of initial primness, concern, and genuine affection with a dash of lust. Russell’s well-chronicled slide down the Hollywood Babylon oblivion chute awash in a sea of booze ended tragically at age 36 in 1961. Allyn Joslyn scored as one of film noirs most unusual John Lawmen. Imagine a southern sheriff without a drawl who speaks gently, waxes philosophical (“Murder is like love, it requires two people”) and never threatens or brandishes a weapon! At the final denouement, he even prevents a deputy from handcuffing the surrendering Clark, remonstrating with him to “let him walk in like a man”. Perhaps Borzage just didn’t have it in him to cast another heavy other than Lloyd Bridges in this picture. Ethel Barrymore lends credibility as only she could in a brief, but pivotal scene as Grandma Hawkins. Both Harry Morgan and Rex Ingram add additional heft in interesting supporting parts. Ingram’s character, in a surprising display of late 1940’s racial tokenism, is refreshingly absent any stereotypes or similar stupidities.

- Alan Rode, Film Monthly

Moonrise, marking the end of Borzage's unhappy tenure at Republic, may be a throwback, but to what? That film's neo-primitive expressionism anticipates The Night of the Hunter in some ways, but it also seems designed to pay lip service to the paranoia that had crept into modern cinema (something that Borzage later professed to despise). Although Moonrise is finally just as romantic as the rest of his work, the disembodied visual scheme of its first half, designed as an illustration of psychological trauma, is a singular event in Borzage --an interesting choice of material that probably marked a sly compromise between the director's own concerns and the more fashionable notions of the day.

In the end, what is Borzagean remains at the core of every project, overpowering all pictorial and topical considerations with a rapture that goes far beyond the idea of a mere touch or set of preoccupations. His is a body of work that remains vital less for its visual sublimity than for its twin pillars of physical dynamism and philosophical extremity. For about twenty years, Borzage's distinctly American brand of spirituality was in perfect accord with the sensibility of the country at large, a brief loss of faith during the late silent era notwithstanding. By the beginning of the Forties, he had become "outmoded" and, by the time he worked at Republic in the latter part of the decade, when many of his contemporaries were moving into the most glorious phases of their careers, he had already become an exotic remnant of an earlier era. But he never wavered in his own belief in himself and in paradise on earth through love and art.

- Kent Jones, Film Comment

Borzage has his protagonist turn his back to others and avert his gaze during... dialogue scenes... He also regularly positions two characters at an angle of 90 degrees to each other, further stressing their avoidance of eye contact by framing one character in profile. While such a mise en scène contributes to a particularly pictorial storytelling, Borzage repeatedly forgoes any dialogue during the first third of the movie. Instead, he has gestures speak in close-ups. During the opening sequence, words only function to identify Danny and Jerry at young age.

Danny reveals his greatest secret, when he affirms Mose’s suspicion. Yet, Borzage stresses the scene’s quite sadness by contrasting the silent accord between both men with a dynamic tension between foreground and background. In a medium long-shot, we see Danny in the background lying at the edge of the swamp, while Mose in the foreground sits on the porch of his cabin. By alternating close-ups of each men, Borzage emphasizes the distance between them – the more so, as Mose apparently does not have the heart to look his friend in the eye. Framed in close-up, slightly from below and almost in profile, Mose stares off-screen, without ever turning his head to Danny.

The beauty of this mise en scène, which accentuates the emotional charge of the situation, can certainly be attributed to the director, even if it is strikingly different from the style he is mainly associated with. But apart from the mise en scène, this scene has been transposed virtually unchanged form the literary source [by Theodore Strauss]. The same applies to almost every single of the film’s dialogues, while the slight changes to the plot have resulted primarily in tightening it.

While Borzage’s work has lately been the object of a modest revival, Strauss has been completely forgotten.That is a pity, because his earnestness in dealing with a poor man’s Crime-and-Punishment-theme is, like Borzage’s, totally disarming, even if his tone tends to be as grave as one might assume from Mose’s and the sheriff’s dialogues. Strauss’ book featured prominently in the publicity campaign for the film, and was displayed on posters and lobby cards. Film reviewers regularly referred to Moonrise’s literary source and The New York Times even opened its review of the film stating, “The ancient argument as to which medium tells the story best, written words or pictorial images, is again brought into focus by Moonrise.” And the reviewer actually thought that “the book towers above the picture”. However, the novel – as well as the film – had apparently been already forgotten, when in 1951 it was published as a paperback, since Bantam re-titled it Dark Hunger.

Moonrise’s thoroughgoing fidelity to its literary source poses the question: Did Borzage adopt the book’s philosophical quintessence as well? His films after Seventh Heaven have often been interpreted as endorsing the renunciation of all worldly matters. “[A] world destroying dignity is but a sordid deserted place not worth returning to, but of going beyond. [...] Borzage's heroes do not aspire to reenter into society”, concludes Dumont. Moonrise, however, suggests a different interpretation: “Man ought to live in a world with other folks” is what Strauss and Borzage have Mose say. “What I did was resign from the human race – and I guess that’s about the worst crime there is.”

When Joe McElhaney applies the quintessence of these words – obviously unaware of their origin with Strauss’ novel – onto Borzage’s whole œuvre, he acts overhasty, to say the least. But this particular outlook on the human condition and the world is not only affirmed by the narrative of Moonrise, it is also underscored by Mose’s last words. Addressing one of his dogs as “Mister Dog”, Mose states: “If a man knows how to rejoin the human race, once he’s resigned, it helps, Mr. Dog, it helps.” Tellingly, these are among the few words in this movie which do not originate with Strauss. That Borzage’s film thus, paradoxically, attests to Strauss’ outlook on the human condition by a rare divergence from his book, might offer an ironic moral of sorts for auteurists, too.

- Holger Römers, “The Moral of the Auteur Theory”: Frank Borzage’s Moonrise (and Theodore Strauss’ Source Novel). Senses of Cinema

Perhaps Borzage's greatest film, Moonrise, a brooding tale of a murderer's son (Clark) driven to violence by others harping on his past, is the perfect answer to those critics who have derided Borzage as a 'mere' romantic, a mere celebrator of the magic of love. Deeply melancholic, the film (from a novel by Theodore Strauss) creates a sense of physical reality with its low key lighting and harsh compositions that Borzage's lovers on the run cannot defeat: their 'Seventh Heaven' in an abandoned mansion is only temporary.

- Time Out

It's a grim melodrama that feels tragically realistic, touching on the raw nerves of the brooding accused murderer who has been forced into violence and going on-the-run because his tormentors have rattled him. The film's beauty lies in Borzage's overpowering visual mise-en-scene, making the film a character study as the protagonist wrestles with his inner conflicts between the peaceful and wrathful deities. The conflicted young man eventually overcomes his past bad karma because he finds someone to love, support from his betters and values to believe in. Spiritual ideals such as transformational love are the very things the director, himself, finds very dear in his real life.

- Dennis Schwartz

This outstanding movie has been dubbed a "melodrama," and it's easy to see why. But unlike most melodramas, there's a deeply serious social message pulsing through; and, while many people, then and now, might have found this too earnest, I'm just grateful work like this exists as a point of moral and artistic reference. Borzage makes a visual homage of his own, this one to silent movies, and along with that he works in a couple of important themes too complex (and too intelligently discussed) to go on the back of a t-shirt; but I'll risk reducing them anyway. The first is that, when it comes to crime, we should be careful before we start talking about "fate" or "bad blood." As a child, Danny Crane (Dane Clark, above, second from left) was mercilessly teased about his father's execution for murder. As an adult, he is again confronted by his chief tormentor from childhood and, in self-defence, kills him. The main body of the film takes us through what happens next. Can he live with the guilt? Will his community discover the truth? If so, will they turn on him? Or will a consensus conclude that Danny, far from being "born that way" or doomed by fate, succumbed to social forces that must also bear some responsibility? As the film actually plays it, what I notice today is that here's one small-town society capable of making restrained, evidence-based judgments about its own people — and not because of huge amounts of book-learning either!

- D.J.M. Saunders, Bright Lights Film Journal

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The titles of Borzage’s sublime (no other word will do) MOONRISE play out over strange, rippling pools of liquid fog.

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This eventually resolves, post-titles, into the shadows of liquid fog, pooling eerily in an inexplicable fashion, as we enter a peculiarly abstract landscape of rain, where an execution is about to take place. I will say no more.

But that same year, 1948, Orson Welles was making MACBETH, at the same studio as Borzage, Republic. And when Welles’ weird women peer into their cauldron in Act 1, Scene 1, amid the murk and mist and bubble bubble, we get this liquid fog again:

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Welles has double-exposed it with a shot of fas-motion billowing clouds, oddly enough. All playing the contents of an enchanted cauldron. You maybe have to see it moving in good definition to see that it’s exactly the same effect as Borzage’s liquid fog. So, either both men made use of a piece of kit in stock at Republic, which I’m going to call Professor Strickfaden’s Liquid Fog Vortex Projector, or, more likely in my opinion, Welles simply borrowed a few seconds of Borzage’s movie to enhance his own. It’s the sort of thing he’d do more wholeheartedly in F FOR FAKE, and which he’d already done in CITIZEN KANE, which uses footage, and animated bats, from SON OF KONG.

As John Huston says in Welles’ THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, “It’s quite alright to steal from each other. What we must never do is steal from ourselves.”

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Frank Borzage: master of the shadows.

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This, the opening of MOONRISE, is what turned me on to F.B. The beauty and boldness of the visual storytelling, the combination of a powerful story idea (a boy is persecuted because his father was hanged — then he himself becomes a killer: all this in the first five minutes!) put over with flamboyant but never inappropriate use of film technique.

Also, in the above image, the little kid is meant to be crying, but he obviously isn’t. Some crying sounds have been dubbed on, while the youngster tries to make a “sad face”. I realised that Borzage was too nice to make a baby cry for his film, even though the lack of tears slightly mars the film. That puts him in a different ethical class from practically all his peers. Can we imagine William Wyler hesitating?

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I love that the entire set for this shot is the studio floor, doubling as an implausibly shiny playground. MOONRISE was shot on entirely in a tiny array of tightly packed sets in a single studio, with a very short schedule. Republic seem to have been experimenting with artistically ambitious films on low budgets in 1948: hence Welles’ MACBETH. Of course they were John Ford’s refuge where he could make less overtly commercial projects at lower cost.

The tree-shadow totally MAKES the shot, transforming it from an obvious interior to a poetic, unreal exterior. Shades of Sternberg, who was particularly fond of tree-shadows in the late ’20s and early ’30s.

- David Cairns, shadowplay
Read Jesse Schlotterbeck's study "Non-Urban Noirs: Rural Space in Moonrise, On Dangerous Ground, Thieves’ Highway, and They Live by Night" in M/C Journal
Also see entries on Moonrise by:

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Watch Moonrise (1948) in Film Noir |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

ABOUT FRANK BORZAGE

IMDb

Quotes posted on the They Shoot Pictures Borzage page:

“By the mid-1920s, Borzage was one of the most successful Hollywood directors - as witness the fact that he won the newly created Oscar for direction twice in its first five years - for Seventh Heaven and Bad Girl. War, and the consequent taste for realism, destroyed the world he had created and after The Mortal Storm, only one other film - Moonrise - properly revealed his talent. As a result, he is now badly neglected.” - David Thomson (The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, 2002)

“Frank Borzage was that rarity of rarities, an uncompromising romanticist…Borzage never needed dream worlds for his suspension of disbelief. He plunged into the real worlds of poverty and oppression, the world of Roosevelt and Hitler, the New Deal and the New Order, to impart an aura to his characters, not merely through soft focus and a fluid camera, but through a genuine concern with the wondrous inner life of lovers in the midst of adversity.” - Andrew Sarris (The American Cinema, 1968)

“Crucial to his films’ incandescent romanticism were his fluid use of the camera, floating through unoccupied spaces to suggest mysterious invisible forces existing beyond the material realm, and a focus on luminous faces; his attention to actresses, especially Janet Gaynor and Margaret Sullavan, made unusually palpable the strength of their undying love.” - Geoff Andrew (The Director’s Vision, 1999)

“Borzage’s top films are laden with romance and expressive camera work and lighting.” - William R. Meyer (The Film Buff’s Catalog, 1978)

Frank Borzage had a rare gift of taking characters, even those who were children of violence, and fashioning a treatment of them abundant with lyrical romanticism and tenderness, even a spirituality that reformed them and their story.

- DeWitt Bodeen, Film Reference.com

There's a director I know who's fond of saying that he's more interested in what current filmmakers are doing (even the mediocre ones) than in studying "classic cinema," older films touching him only to the degree that they illuminate modern experience. It's a brutal approach to film history, perhaps a bit too brutal for me, but it has a certain validity as an alternative to the ahistorical side of film culture. Perhaps Borzage really is nothing more than the cinema's Great Romantic --a compliment that has the stale aftertaste of day-old beer since, in contemporary terms, it places him so far outside of the strange jumble of neurosis, solitude, and disillusionment we currently refer to as reality.

He was a Hollywood melodramatist with absolutely no interest in the workings of everyday life --the world around Borzage's lovers and believers is a procession of interchangeable amorphous abstractions. An arch-symbolist with a deep belief in the communion of souls, he woefully lacks any of the credentials necessary for worship by modern audiences (precious little in the way of irony, no cynicism to speak of, never made a film noir). Nor can it be denied that Borzage's oeuvre sports a generous helping of mediocre-to-bad actors (Douglass Montgomery, Robert Taylor, Phillip Dorn, and John Howard --the only actor wooden enough to take the air out of Borzage's billowing romanticism, in Disputed Passage), as well as a high percentage of filler (endless Dick Powell musicals at Warners, topical melodramas for Fox, a biography of Dolly Madison). On top of that, his films don't even work as satisfyingly snotty postmodern experiences, probably due to the fact that they are almost all structurally identical.

In his lovingly researched Frank Borzage --Sarastro à Hollywood (an act of true literary devotion that provides all of the biographical information for this article), Hervé Dumont cites Borzage's development of intimate scenes "to the detriment of the action" as the basis of contemporary objections to The River, the director's fearsome 1929 masterpiece that was caught in the mad crossfire between silence and sound. It's the same kind of complaint that you hear about "foreign films" today. And the charge of artistry is more than justified. Besides Nick Ray, with whom he has often been compared, Borzage was one of Hollywood's only truly obsessive artists of the sound era (Welles, who made most of his films outside of Hollywood, doesn't count), which is what truly made him a favorite of the Surrealists. Borzage's artistic vision was not a loose conglomeration of tics, talents, and obsessions to be tallied up at the end of his career. He had something rare in Hollywood: a philosophical formulation of life that, at a certain point in his career, took precedence over the delivery of a satisfying piece of entertainment. It may have been a naïve one, nourished by Masonic teachings and quite possibly by his early exposure to the Mormons when he was growing up in Salt Lake City, but he believed it and sometimes bent plots inside out to accommodate it. It also informed his unique way of arranging space. When a character looks in a film by Hawks or Hitchcock, he or she is usually looking at something concrete. When a character looks in a film by Ford, it's often into the past. When a character looks in a film by Borzage, it's usually a matter of looking through objective reality into an ultimate reality of celestial harmony, around which time tends to dilate and space tends to become elastic to the point of transparency.

For Borzage, love means certainty (which may account for another aspect of his current neglect: his films never partake of the crisis of belief at the core of modern experience). And like all philosophies, Borzage's is completely without interest outside of the physical act of its own creation. The human evidence of Borzage's superhuman idea of existence --to be found in Charles Farrell's and Janet Gaynor's rapturous walk up the stairs and into paradise in Seventh Heaven (27), in the beautifully elongated flowering of their love in Lucky Star (29), in Dane Clark and Gail Russell's moonlit idyll in an abandoned mansion in Moonrise (48), in Margaret Sullavan sleeping in her shimmering evening dress on Robert Taylor's doorstep in Three Comrades, in James Dunne and Sally Eilers's touchingly naïve attempt at marriage in Bad Girl (32), in James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan taking the family marriage cup from Maria Ouspenskaya before their potentially fatal trek over the Austrian border in The Mortal Storm --is one of the great glories of the cinema.

Can a body of work consisting of a hundred films and three television shows, which begins in 1915 and ends in 1959 and passes through almost every major studio in Hollywood, be reduced to such a singleminded preoccupation? In one sense, no. It's an auteurist tradition to identify something singular in a director's work and then leave it at that, chucking the quirks, oddities, momentary fashions, and comminglings with commerce and studio style that make up a big part of any Hollywood oeuvre. Such selectivity has probably outlived its usefulness. In Borzage's case, one can see a whole panorama of momentary influences stretched across his career.

- Kent Jones, Film Comment

943 (85). Murder by Contract (1958, Irving Lerner)

Screened Wednesday December 16 2008 on VHS in New York NY TSPDT rank #726 IMDb

Irving Lerner hard-sells an implausible premise of Claude, a novice contract killer (Vince Edwards, an outwardly tougher but equally brittle Montgomery Clift type. ) working his way at record speed to a major league hit, much in the way Claude sells himself to his client: memorable tough-talking one-liners offset by gestural terseness. Claude's preparation and execution of his new trade is a series of lizard-cool rituals shot and edited with the exactitude of a metronome, actions alternating with shots of clocks and scribbled notes adding dollar figures for each mission accomplished, as mesmerizing as a video game in its lockstep rhythm of rounds and rewards.

For his big hit, Lerner introduces two Abbot and Costello sidekicks who ostensibly support and monitor Claude, but practically serve as on-screen audience surrogates analyzing the film noir hero standing in their midst. Flabbergasted by Claude's super-cool reluctance to execute the hit, the sidekicks engage in an extended comic give-and-take, a brilliant device that co-opts the audience's fragile suspension of disbelief by giving voice to it, while building up near-impossible expectations of Claude's hitman abilities. It's when Claude discovers late in the game that his target is a woman that his game plan starts to crumble, leading to a succumbing of linear rationalism to crazed impulse worthy of Kubrick. In terms of scale, Murder by Contract is a modest chamber piece compared to The Killing's multi-character symphony, but it cuts deeper into the same heart of male self-destructiveness underlying its most outrageous aspirations.

Want to go deeper?

The following citations were counted towards the placement of Murder by Contract on the TSPDT 1000:

Andrew Rector, Senses of Cinema (2002) Bettina Thienhaus, Steadycam (2007) Hans Schifferle, Steadycam (2007) Harun Farocki, Facets (2003) Jorge Didaco, Senses of Cinema (2003) ? Jonathan Rosenbaum, Essential Cinema: Favourite 1,000 Films (2004) ? Martin Scorsese, Guilty Pleasures (1998) ? Martin Scorsese, Most Misappreciated American Films (1977) ? National Society of Film Critics, The B List: Low-Budget Beauties, Genre-Bending Mavericks, and Cult Classics We Love (2008)

Memorable quotes:

"Now why would a stranger kill a stranger? Because somebody's willing to pay. It's business. Same as any other business. You murder the competition. Instead of price cutting, it's throat-cutting. Same thing."

"If I'd have known it was a woman I would have asked double. I don't like women. They don't stand still. When they move it's hard to figure why or wherefore. They're not dependable. It's tough to kill somebody not dependable."

"The human female is descended from the monkey. A

Listen to a podcast on Murder by Contract at The Lost Picture Show with Julian and John

This is the film that has influenced me most. I had a clip out of it in Mean Streets but had to take it out: it was too long, and a little too esoteric. And there's a getting-in-shape sequence that's very much like the one in Taxi Driver. The spirit of Murder By Contract has a lot to do with Taxi Driver. Lerner was an artist who knew how to do things in shorthand, like Bresson and Godard. The film puts us all to shame with its economy of style, especially in the barbershop murder at the beginning. Vince Edwards gives a marvelous performance as the killer who couldn't murder a woman. Murder By Contract was a favorite of neighborhood guys who didn't know anything about movies. They just liked the film because they recognized something unique about it.

- Martin Scorsese, "Martin Scorsese's Guilty Pleasures," Film Comment, May-June 1998

This rarely screened 1958 gem about the mind of a contract killer is one of Martin Scorsese’s favorite thrillers, and it’s easy to see why. The film follows an existential hipster (Vince Edwards) who coolly regards his work as a business until he gets thrown by a big-time assignment to rub out a woman about to testify in court. Neither the screenwriter (Ben Simcoe) nor the director (Irving Lerner) ever made it big, but here they achieved something nearly perfect–with a memorable guitar score, a witty feeling for character, dialogue, and narrative ellipsis, and a lean, purposeful style. Lucien Ballard did the black-and-white cinematography.

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader

A terrific, no-nonsense B movie which comes on like something by Jean-Pierre Melville: cool, calm and dispassionate. Edwards is Claude, a technician who goes into crime as a career move, to 'improve himself'. A series of hits later, he looks every inch the professional assassin, confident enough to take his time, competent enough not to fear detection. It isn't entirely his fault if something goes wrong on the big contract... Lerner and his superb cameraman, Lucien Ballard, make the most of a shoestring budget to produce a taut, spare, amoral film; it doesn't look restricted, it looks restrained. Well ahead of its time, too.

- Time Out Movie Guide

The originality of this B-picture, shot in only a few days, lies in its depiction of a hired killer as a technician, a man who is in a steady job but wants to 'better' himself and make big money, and who outwardly and officially is the essence of white-collar respectability. The film's distinctiveness stems from its coolness of tone, which is suitably complemented by Perry Botkin's guitar accompaniment.

- Phil Hardy, British Film Institute, The BFI Companion to Crime. Published by Continuum International Publishing Group, 1997. Page 234

When Martin Scorsese dedicated New York, New York to the memory of Irving Lerner (1909-1976), it wasn’t because Scorsese’s somber, fatalistic musical had anything in common with Lerner’s handful of noirs, apart from spiritual darkness. Of Lerner’s small output, the film that Scorsese was most influenced by, and cited frequently, was Murder by Contract (1958). A quickie shot in eight days on a microscopic budget, it’s a potent reminder of how less can be more, centered on Vince Edwards’ loner killer for hire. Cool on the outside, tightly coiled on the inside, Edwards’ Claude, priding himself on having put his emotions on ice, exemplifies a sort of cusp noir, a harbinger of postwar American change...

What anthropologically-trained Lerner tapped into was American postwar change. Where historians saw an age of conformity, Lerner saw a release of pent-up energies, a metaphysical sprawl that was soon to have its analogue in suburban sprawl. In his brilliant study, Film Noir: The Spaces of Modernity, Edward Dimendberg usefully makes a distinction between the centripetal force of the classic noir of the cities, with everything, including women trapped in male sexualizing of women’s roles, pulled toward the city’s dark center, and the centrifugal forces of the postwar world, with everything spiraling outward, into the suburbs and away from older role models...

Clean, lean and mean, tight, tense and satisfyingly reverberant, Murder by Contract vaults over its Poverty Row origins. We can understand why the young Scorsese was much more taken by it than by the A-movie on the double bill he saw. We see in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) Travis Bickle’s genuflections to Edwards’ ascetic preparations. Scorsese says he recalled Perry Botkin’s potent music for Murder by Contract – a single guitar, which Botkin played, redolent with hints of ‘50s Italo-pop and Anton Karas’s zither music for The Third Man (1949). Howard Shore devised a similarly guitar-flavored score that underlined the web-of-fate element in Scorsese’s Oscar®-winning The Departed (2006). In its pared-down imperative, and its distant early warning signals of postwar societal upheaval, Murder by Contract, with its fade to white, is a big little film noir turned film blanc.

- Jay Carr, Turner Classic Movies

This neglected low-budget B/W noir film from the 1950s is a beaut, an absolutely superb thriller. It reminds me so much of Jean-Pierre Melville's great existentialist character study film noir called Le Samurai (67), where the point of the film remains less on the story and more on how the protagonist is suave and calculatingly dispassionate...

This is a perfectly nuanced film with the atmospheric noir cinematography by Lucien Ballard, plus a brilliantly appropriate one-man guitar musical arrangement heard in the background. The film also had a beautiful feel for who the character is and the situation he was in. There were no phony contrivances, as everything felt natural. They don't make noir films better than this. Interestingly enough, the director and screenwriter never went on to do something even close to the quality this B- film achieved, while this role deservedly catapulted Vince Edwards career into stardom. Martin Scorsese said this was the film that influenced him most when he made "Mean Streets."

- Dennis Schwartz

There’s an original approach to the framing of shots (a floor level view of bound and gagged barbershop employees as Edwards prepares to cut the throat of an unsuspecting victim in the front of the shop). Ballard also moves smoothly from the outdoors (Edwards and two gangster clients tooling around Los Angeles in a convertible) to long static takes indoors in which Edward’s alienated psychological state is subtly revealed through his body language and actions. The montage sequence where we observe him over a two week period never leaving his room while he waits for a client’s phone call is masterful and will obviously remind you of Travis Bickle in TAXI DRIVER and maybe even Jef Costello in LE SAMOURAI. He does pull-ups from a closet rod, push-ups off two chairs, he prepares for bed repeatedly, and he calls in food orders and lays out the measy dime tips on the cardtable in front of him, parsing one out to each delivery boy like a machine.

- morlockjeff, Movie Morlocks, the TCM blog

There is an effortless lightness of touch to this film, a lightness which begins with the crisp editing and directorial efficiencies praised by Scorsese and continues via transference to Vince (Ben Casey) Edwards’ portrayal of Claude, the hitman whose deadpan existentialism infuriates his mob handlers as much as it creases up audiences who feel they are in on the gag. His zen philosophising on ‘the assassin worldview’ links Murder By Contract to the This Gun For Hire archetype of the lone killer with a higher purpose even as it satirises it.

With this sure touch goes perfect balance. The opening scenes have a noir darkness (courtesy veteran cinematographer Lucien Ballard) while the establishing ‘hits’ are very deftly sketched in (check the Coen Bros’ comparable barbershop scene in their 2001 genre homage The Man Who Wasn’t There), but we know little of Claude’s persona here. It’s only in the main body of the film, when the plot shifts from New York to California and the associated brightness of sunny location shooting, that the strains of Claude’s idiosyncrasies emerge and supply enough gravity to balance the light. Music continues this dualism, with nothing more than a spare, Third Man-like Mediterranean guitar picking that alternates with an insistent, near-techno, pulse in the scenes of tension.

Without Claude’s inscrutable delaying tactics, lateral-thinking work ethic and impossibly conflicted gender politics (which tie him up in knots on discovering his West Coast target is – gasp! – a woman) Murder By Contract wouldn’t rise above the level of forgotten 50s TV crime shows. Its clean lines and simplicity schematize gangland behaviour (unrealistically of course) into neat roles which are comic book reassuring.

Even so the film falters noticeably after Claude’s gangland minders outlive their usefulness and he turns his talents in their direction. But even this is handled with felicitous irony, the Hollywood backlot where Claude dispatches his erstwhile handlers underscoring the play-acting dimension to the superficiality of it all.

Like every version of the Gun For Hire archetype (through variants like 1974’s The Conversation right up to 1999’s Ghost Dog), it’s the humanising entry of feelings into his detached makeup that proves the protagonist’s undoing. Claude’s delayed ‘gratification’ of the hit, conflated with his female aversion, is a psycho-sexual conundrum that makes Murder By Contract enduringly intriguing. No wonder Scorsese likes it!

-    Roger Westcombe, Big House Film

Another Missing Link film, this one informing the steely-eyed, pretensions-to-philosophy hitman subgenre (echoing especially now with current online rumbles over the Coens’ No Country for Old Men). This film has the isolated astringency of European art-house films of the time (the score, titles, and opening scene are distinctly European for this time period, probably Italian-influenced), and completes the picture by saddling our cold-blooded hitman “hero” with a pair of comical, worrying overseers from the Syndicate (or Organization, or whatever these 1950s movies lovingly called the Nation Wide Mob). Minimal editing within a scene, Lerner sticking to single shot, high-ish angle setups give the film a stern, singular, and terse cinematic vernacular. While the staging and acting sometimes slides into the silly, the L.A. of 1958 is too fascinating, Lerner’s compositions to often good (Lucien Ballard inexplicably shooting this no-name B-film), and, like so many existentialism-influenced films that began appearing around this time, it’s got a sublimely poetic-fatalist ending that keeps the whole thing well above an unseen curiosity.

- Daniel Kasman

About Irving Lerner

Wiki

Murder by Contract is a minor classic of murderous understatement, and is all that need be said about Irving Lerner's career. Perhaps it is a mistake to treat films like Murder by Contract as means to an end or as overtures to grand operas. A director, like any artist, may have but one good work in his system. Often the promising work turns out to be the ultimate work, and Murder by Contract seems to fall into that category.

- Andrew Sarris, The American Cinema, Directors and Directions, 1929-1968. Published by Da Capo Press, 1996. Page 215

After seeing MURDER BY CONTRACT for the first time I wanted to find out more about Lerner and was amazed to see how many different types of films he had worked on and in different capacities. Here was a former research editor for Columbia University’s Encyclopedia of Social Sciences who ended up becoming the head of New York University’s Educational Film Institute after World War II. He then hooked up with director Joseph Strick (THE SAVAGE EYE) on a short documentary, MUSCLE BEACH (1948), and then on his own made SUICIDE ATTACK, a 1951 documentary that utilized captured Japanese footage to show WWII (especially the live combat) from the Japanese point of view. After that, Lerner entered the B movie industry but more on that in part two. He also produced several documentaries including TO HEAR YOUR BANJO PLAY (1947) which he co-directed with the great Willard Van Dyke (THE CITY, 1938) and featured Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, & Sonny Terry & Brownee McGhee among others and the big budget Western CUSTER OF THE WEST (1967) starring Robert Shaw. He even dabbled in producing some spaghetti Westerns with Lee Van Cleef – CAPTAIN APACHE (1971) and BAD MAN’S RIVER (1971).

But it gets weirder. He served as a technical advisor on both ROBOT MONSTER (1953) and Anthony Mann’s GOD’S LITTLE ACRE (1953). He worked as an associate editor on EXECUTIVE ACTION (1973), the Dalton Trumbo scripted dramatization of the plot to assassinate President Kennedy. He worked as an actor in Jose Luis Borau’s HAY QUE MATAR A B. (1975, aka “B Must Die) opposite Darren McGavin, Stephane Audran, and Patricia Neal. I swear I am not hallucinating! To top it off he served as an uncredited editor on Kubrick’s SPARTACUS as well as Fred Haines’s 1974 film adaptation of Hermann Hesse’s STEPPENWOLF and the documentary MUSTANG: THE HOUSE THAT JOE BUILT (1978), Robert Guralnick’s documentary on America’s first legal brothel – in Nevada. WHAT? Who the heck is this guy? Next week I’ll cover some of his other films as a director including the follow-up to MURDER BY CONTRACT – CITY OF FEAR (1959).

- morlockjeff, Movie Morlocks, the TCM blog

About Vince Edwards

Poor Vince has never gotten much respect as an actor but that’s because most people only remember his reserved but compassionate one-note performance as “Ben Casey,” the popular TV medical series that ran from 1961-1966. MURDER BY CONTRACT was the role he was born to play and to state the obvious Vince was never the best choice to play goody-two-shoes leading men. Almost every line of dialogue the misogynistic Claude delivers in this film is quotable – if you’re drunk at a stag party circa 1958: “The human female is descended from a monkey!” Vince was also quite memorable as the scariest of the three thugs terrorizing Jack Kelly’s family in THE NIGHT HOLDS TERROR (1955) – scarier even than his hoodlum co-star John Cassavetes whose film TOO LATE BLUES he would appear in in 1961. He’s also cool and devious in Kubrick’s THE KILLING (1956) as the young hot shot who’s double-crossing Elisha Cook, Jr. in a heist ripoff with Cook’s wife, Marie Windsor. And he popped up in some prestige projects too such as I AM A CAMERA (1955, based on Christopher Isherwood’s “Berlin Stories”, the basis for CABARET), the Oscar winning THE THREE FACES OF EVE (1957) and Carl Foreman’s war epic THE VICTORS (1963).

- morlockjeff, Movie Morlocks, the TCM blog