One of the last of the true Film Noirs, this ultra-low-budget character study of an angry, alienated hit man on a Christmas assignment in New York City has earned a reputation as a minor cult classic. Featuring more hard-boiled existential monologue (in a second-person narration delivered by a gravel-voiced Lionel Stander) than dialogue, this gritty tale of a born loser seems a cinematic forerunner of Taxi Driver and I Stand Alone.
The movie begins on a note of the darkest pessimism, with the hit man, Frankie Bono (played by writer/director Allen Baron) riding a train to NYC. Going through a pitch black tunnel with a tiny light at the end representing birth into a hopeless world, Stander intones in a merciless voice-over:
Remembering, out of the black silence, you were born in pain, you were born with hate and anger built in. Took a slap on the backside to blast out the scream, and then you knew you were alive. Later you learned to hold back the scream, and let out the hate and anger another way.
Well, there’s no Christmas cheer in the Big Apple for Frankie, as he wanders the streets alone, biding his time until he can kill his mobster target:
You’re coming into town on Christmas. It gives you the creeps. But that’s all right--everyone on the goodwill kick, maybe they’ll leave you alone. You hate cities. Especially at Christmas. But that’s all right, too. When the Better Business Bureau rings the Christmas bell, the suckers forget there’s such a business as murder, and businessmen who make it their exclusive line.
There’s a fine scene of Frankie tracking the mobster in Harlem:
The streets of Harlem are busy enough. No one notices you. Your hands are sweating but that’s all right because you know what it is—the hate of Harlem. You hate them and they hate you.
Another memorable scene has Frankie visiting the filthy apartment of a repellent and grossly obese gun dealer, who wheezes business with Frankie in between feeding his pet rats.
Frankie’s lonely walks through streets of New York end when he wanders into a restaurant and an old friend nags him into attending a party, where he meets Lori. Lori tempts Frankie from his years of isolation, but he is far too damaged to connect with her. The one *date* they have ends in a near-rape attempt.
The scenes between Frankie and Lori could have elevated this film to the minor masterpiece level, but unfortunately, the actress who plays Lori, Molly McCarthy, gives one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen. I mean, a pot of dead flowers would seem more appealing and lively than Molly McCarthy’s Lori. McCarthy’s Lori would make an autistic seem like the life of a party. Even *wooden* would be too much praise for her acting. That a bitter loner like Frankie would be attracted to such a stick-in-the-mud? No, it just doesn't work. And the great tragedy of McCarthy's clumsy turn is it undoes all the *art brut* atmosphere of the first third of the film, and makes you aware, painfully aware, you are watching a cheapie.
Fortunately, once Frankie is done with Lori, the film quickly regains its edgy luster, and ends on an as equally beautifully grim yang as its opening yin. All-in-all, not a bad little movie, and certainly more interesting than our contemporary Hollywood fare, shot with budgets literally 5000 times as large.
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