Retro Review

By Trevor Hale, Red Pulse Editor

“Blast of Silence” (1961)

Although most of the best noir films of the past were preoccupied with trying to keep one mystery hidden behind another, Allen Baron’s little-seen “Blast of Silence” is bleak, honest and straight to the point.

Baron, who wrote and directed the film, plays Frankie Bono, a hit man from Cleveland who’s come to New York on assignment to kill a mid-level mob boss, but one thing after another goes wrong. Soon enough, Frankie’s in way over his head and just hoping he’ll make it out of town alive.

One of the first things that sets “Blast of Silence” apart from other noirs of the period was its use of voice-over narration. This device is almost mandatory for the genre, but here the story is told entirely in second person. This detaches the viewer from the protagonist and gives the film an eerie quality. Baron looks tense and uncomfortable throughout the entire story, which adds a true sense of loneliness and isolation to the character.

“Blast of Silence” is one of noir’s hidden gems that very few people know about and even fewer have seen. It’s a film that starts out with the “hero” feeling alienated and in over his head, and in typical noir fashion, things only get worse.

“The Long Goodbye” (1973)

Humphrey Bogart defined the character of Philip Marlowe in the 1946 adaptation of “The Big Sleep” with his laid-back attitude and effortless cool. When Robert Altman brought “The Long Goodbye” to the screen in 1973, he cast Elliot Gould in the lead and the film was met with largely negative reviews. Viewers weren’t prepared to accept Gould’s mumbling, disheveled version of Marlowe or Altman’s twisting, unconventional changes from the original novel.

Altman’s version took the taut, direct style that most detective stories have and threw it out the window. There’s still some semblance of plot, but like the best Hitchcock films, Altman doesn’t seem to care what it is exactly. It’s all in the way that it’s presented, letting the characters play off one another and setting them loose in a certain environment8212;preferably one that has the possibility for something to go wrong.

“The Long Goodbye” is all about attitude and atmosphere and is as much a parody of the genre as it is a perfect take for a new generation. It’s somewhat similar to “The Big Lebowski” in the way that it relies on a clueless protagonist to drive the story8212;only this time it’s more about cats than bowling.

“L.A. Confidential” (1997)

With the demise of black-and-white movies, the film noir genre fell farther and farther off the radar. The best aspects of noir were the shadows and shady characters, but Hollywood had long since forgotten the anti-heroes of yesteryear when director Curtis Hanson discovered James Ellroy’s epic novel of Los Angeles police officers caught up in corruption, greed, fame and lies in the 1950s.

Hanson cast two unknown Australian actors in the lead roles of Bud White (Russell Crowe) and Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) but rounded out the supporting cast with fantastic actors like Kim Basinger and Kevin Spacey. Although the plot of the film is much more structured and fleshed out than a lot of the genre’s past films, the overall emphasis was on the characters. Hanson and his production crew paid great attention to the little details of the period, but placed them all in the background and brought the characters to the forefront. It’s a sprawling, brilliantly crafted film that reminds everyone that there’s still a place in modern Hollywood for a genuine noir8212;it just takes the right story to bring it out.

“Brick” (2005)

When it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005, Rian Johnson’s “Brick” had all the aspects of a hardboiled detective story, but with one twist8212;all the characters were high school students. Instead of the bleak world of large cities, Johnson sets his story against the backdrop of modern suburbia, creating one of the most original films the genre has seen in years.

Investigating the death of his ex-girlfriend, Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) intrudes into the tight cliques of his school to find information that eventually leads him to The Pin (Lukas Haas). In a pivotal scene, Brendan and The Pin square off at the breakfast table while The Pin’s mother makes them breakfast in the background.

Johnson encouraged his young cast to read the novels of Chandler and Hammett in preparation, but told them to refrain from watching any of the old films so they couldn’t influence the performances and instead had them watch comedies like “His Girl Friday.” “Brick” won the “Originality of Vision” prize at Sundance film festival the year it played and is considered one of the best noir films of this generation.

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