Movie double feature: Blast Of Silence & Five Minutes To Live (1961)
Hola, Amigos. It’s been a long time since I last rapped at ya. I watched some movies recently and thought I would share the experience. Or lack of experience. Both are crime films from 1961 and have some cult status today. But are they any good?
BLAST OF SILENCE was written and directed by Allen Baron. It also stars Allen Baron. Allen Baron plays a hitman who is hired to kill a mobster. He has to buy a gun from a shady source while plotting the perfect place to assassinate his victim, who is always out in public with various henchmen watching over him. Oh, and the shady gun dealer might be interested in blackmail.
It’s set in New York, with plenty of scenery juxtaposing wild nightlife and sleepy neighborhoods. Baron’s character is moody, but if his surliness isn’t expressed by his brief interactions with people, then you have a voiceover to help you know what is going on in Baron’s mind. The narrator is actor Lionel Stander. Your parents might recognize him as the chauffer from Hart To Hart. Your grandparents might recognize him from being run out of the country for his very leftist but not quite Communist-endorsing views. If you’re a fan of the kind of stuff I make fun of on this site, such as shape changing robots, then YOU’LL recognize him as the voice of Kup in the 1986 Transformers movie.
Don’t worry if you don’t recognize his voice right away, as there’s plenty of opportunity to listen to Stander, who I think has the most lines throughout the film. And most of it is harsh criticism aimed at the ‘protagonist’ and his life choices & work. There’s very little dialog in the film. Baron bumps into a old friend and is invited to a party. There, he meets a girl. At some point he visits the girl at her apartment, and then tries to rape her. She shoves him off and then as they both stew on camera over what just happened, she asks why he hasn’t met a nice girl and gotten married.
It’s hard to like this film, frankly, and mostly because of that, regardless of “it was of its time.” Maybe it’s the version I was watching, but a lot of the cinematography looks faded. Even the good shots, such as a long one of Baron walking down the street toward the camera, don’t exactly capture the mood I think we’re supposed to get (isolation? Loneliness?). It would almost be a silent movie if not for Stander’s voiceover berating Baron. He even lets you know way late in the movie that this was supposed to be Baron’s last job, so I guess that’s the foreshadowing that you’re supposed to realize to make this a serious and dark film.
SPOILER: Baron kills the mobster, and escapes. He heads a dock on Long Island and is ambushed by…it’s not clear. The mobster’s henchmen? The people who hired him? If the former, how did they catch up? The latter, what was the point? (Baron kills the gun dealer at some point, but it’s still not clear how that might haunt him later.) This was a dark movie with dark tones, filmed in the dark it seems, with so little information about the character shared, such as the very setup, that I bet they had to go back and have Lionel Stander act as the Greek Chorus. Were we supposed to figure out on our own what he was up to, a slow set up of Baron meeting shady figures and then staking out the mobster’s girlfriend’s apartment? And then we’re with this strange man we just witnessed murder someone as he tries to escape? With the lack of explanation, it would be a confusing but suspenseful buildup. So this odd movie gets weirder with Stander’s constant narration.
Allen Baron would go on to direct so many TV action shows of the 70’s & 80’s so if you saw something mildly exploitative yet formulative on network TV before watching the news, you’ve probably seen his work. Stander had such a long career even with being blacklisted for a number of years. This story isn’t really good but it has a few interesting moments wedged between awkward long moments of Baron quietly brooding with Stander letting us know how much self-loathing is going on in Baron’s mind.
FIVE MINUTES TO LIVE stars Johnny Cash.
I would leave it there, honestly. We all know Cash for his music (I hope). I’ve seen him play a musician on Columbo. Five Minutes to Live is Cash’s first film appearance, ten years before his next film.
It’s not a terrible film or performance. He plays a goon hired to hold a housewife hostage as the bargaining chip for his partner, who has gone to a bank to get an employee, husband to the housewife, to withdraw a large amount of money.
However, the bank employee is having an affair, and planning a divorce, but that would look bad for the bank, whose manager recommends dumping the other woman. So the bank employee kinda shrugs off paying the ransom, because the goons have pretty much solved his problem.
Cash terrorizes the housewife, making a game out of driving her crazy while also keeping her from running outside and away from him. He breaks vases and knick knacks. She changes into a frilly outfit to fake-seduce him, but then her son comes home early from school. When the bank employee learns of this, he starts to negotiate with the other goon, but the bank’s security guard realizes that a robbery is taking place and knocks out the goon, cutting off their channel with Cash, who is going to murder the housewife if he doesn’t hear about the money from the bank.
The dilemma almost gives the plot some serious depth, but we get less of the goon & bank employee arguing about getting the money and more of Cash driving the housewife crazy. The wife is played by Cay Forester, who also wrote the movie. I wonder if this plot was an influence on the ZAZ produced comedy Ruthless People.
It ends (SPOILER) with the wife & child being rescued by the police, and the wife & bank employee driving off into the sunset. For reasons unknown, he decides to stick with Forester, with the mistress hearing about it over the phone and having no input. That’s not part I find odd. Like Blast Of Silence, maybe this movie was of its time, so a man casually having to choose between his wife and his mistress while the wife has no knowledge of him risking her life to solve his divorce problem…Sorry, I’m shocked she didn’t dump him. What a tool. You deserve better, character whose performer who wrote the movie. (I’m actually surprised this wasn’t a plot point.)
Both movies feel like they have no point. One is a doomed protagonist who we’re supposed to wonder, along with himself, if he has a chance to escape his violent lifestyle. Then he dies with no explanation of the double cross he experiences. The other is a doting and underappreciated wife who is terrorized for what must be the longest few hours of her life, and her husband almost lets that situation play out so he can spare his employer the embarrassment of having a divorced employee. And then for little reason other than their son is in danger, they stay together? The husband doesn’t do anything to redeem himself. Is it a showcase for rising music star Cash? A sensationalist thriller that would be forgotten and relegated to afternoon UHF programming? Crime doesn’t pay for either, but there’s no setup in the sense that our doomed heroes have a chance to avoid the web they’ve spun for themselves, or can’t rescue those they love that get caught in those webs.
Are they worth watching? No less than, say, The Wraith. Both movies are like 75 minutes long, and one of them you get a song written & performed by Johnny Cash, so have at.
How awesome is that episode of Columbo with Johnny Cash? Way awesome. Check it out if you haven’t seen it.