The hitmanís march, from the train tunnelís birth canal to the wintry harborís primeval slime. The shabby contract killer (Allen Baron), born with "built-in hate and anger," comes to Manhattan for a Christmastime assignment and learns that "a killer who doesnít kill gets killed." Baronís crumpled, shoestring noir boasts the authentic seediness and soul-sickness of a Weegee photograph, with vťritť views of Harlem pinpointed next to a storefront Santaís 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 friendís sister (Molly McCarthy) doesnít seal the protagonistís loneliness, then the Lionel Stander voiceover rasping in his ears surely does: "You donít 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, Cassavetesís 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 -- youíd 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. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce