Trailers
From Hell.com

Blonde Ice

by Glenn Erickson Aug 26, 2023

All hail the lowly output of Hollywood’s Poverty Row, where mediocrity ruled and good work was rarely rewarded. This potboiler about an avaricious slayer of ‘inconvenient’ suitors is memorable for its low-rent charm and rather vague performances — although glamorous leading lady Leslie Brooks is quite capable with both gun and knife. We celebrate this ‘Film Classics’ show but also Poverty Row wonders overall … movies that sometimes seem to play in another dimension of unreality. A terrific digital restoration revives this pot-boiler’s often impressive cinematography.


Blonde Ice
Blu-ray
ClassicFlix
1948 / B&W / 1:37 Academy /74 min. / Street Date July 18, 2023 / Available from ClassicFlix / 29.99
Starring: Leslie Brooks, Robert Paige, Michael Whalen, James Griffith, Russ Vincent, Walter Sande, Emory Parnell, John Holland, Selmer Jackson, Mildred Coles, David Leonard.
Cinematography: George Robinson
Set Designer: George Van Marter
Film Editors: Douglas Bagier, Jason H. Bernie
Music composed by: Irving Gertz
Production Manager: George Moskov
Screenplay by Kenneth Gamet from a novel by Whitman Chambers
Produced by Martin Mooney
Directed by
Jack Bernhard

We at CineSavant dote on arcane older pictures. We were long ago stirred by the glimpses of unexplored filmic territory offered in books like Kings of the B’s.  *  Edgar G. Ulmer’s exceptional, overachieving ‘B’ masterpiece Detour always earned praise, but Todd McCarthy & Charles Flynn waxed enthusiastic over all the fruits of ‘Poverty Row’ movies with threadbare production values, no-star casts and storytelling so weak that they sometimes seemed to play out in a Dream State. Sure, Detour is a work of art, but a few other PRC pictures by Ulmer are genuine head-scratchers. Girls in Chains (1943) has so many disconnected close-ups, we become disoriented. Isle of Forgotten Sins mostly takes place in one tiny tropical saloon, where ‘things happen’ yet ‘nothing seems to happen.’

Part of this mystique stems from that fact that few critics born after 1940 saw these films new in theaters. Most of us first experienced them blurry 16mm prints on late-night TV airings, chopped up with car commercials. Iffy TV reception put a further barrier between us and the reality of ‘B’-film culture. Frankly, now that Detour has been restored on Blu-ray, we realize that it’s quite artfully made, with a visual finesse atypical at the studios of ‘Poverty Row:’ PRC, Monogram, Republic etc.. When remastered, many of these ‘lesser’ productions take on a new luster.

 

That brings us to Jack Bernhard’s Blonde Ice, a title familiar from low-grade Public Domain releases. In subject matter it’s very much a core film noir; it shows up often in studies that throw a wide noir net. It was made by an outfit called Film Classics, one of the smaller Poverty Row companies trying to get a leg up in the movie game. ClassicFlix’s new restoration displays its good points and drawbacks in much sharper relief.

The Blonde Ice of the title is beautiful Claire Cummings (Leslie Brooks), a newspaper columnist who gets ahead not by journalistic skill but her ability to gather gossip. She’s a player of office politics, adept at keeping a string of ‘male admirers’ at her beck and call. Claire reveals herself to none of her suitors. She marries the wealthy Carl Hanneman (John Holland) to the chagrin of newspaperman Al Herrick (James Griffith) who foolishly thought he was #1. Claire is no sooner hitched than her husband catches her necking on a balcony with top reporter Les Burns (Robert Paige), the ‘man she claims to really love.’ Although the office girl June Taylor (Mildred Coles) and the editor’s wife Mimi Doyle (Julie Gibson) see Claire for what she is, the men continue to buzz around. Catching Claire writing a love note to Les, hubby Carl announces his intention to file for a divorce. But Claire has no intention of letting Carl’s fortune slip through her fingers.

One mysterious ‘suicide’ later, Claire interrupts her romance with Les to set her bonnet for political aspirant Stanley Mason (Michael Whalen). Blackmail enters the picture when Blackie Talon (Russ Vincent) insists that Claire pay off his gambling debts, in return for silence about what he knows about the first killing. Her reaction to Blackie’s demand is not difficult to predict. Claire’s campaign to gain status and wealth proceeds without delays. She gets Stanley to announce their engagement in public, but he almost immediately finds out about her preference for Les. She responds by framing Les for a third murder, expecting to be protected, as usual, by her innocent airs and cool demeanor. She’s finally tripped up by a psychiatrist (David Leonard), who sees through these outrageous double dealings.

 

In sheer incident Blonde Ice is more lethal than Double Indemnity or The Postman Always Rings Twice — Claire Cummings is adept at covering her tracks and laying down false alibis. But the movie has that weird ‘B’ feel of unreality that even a spotless restoration can’t improve. From the first scene, the show presents Claire as a wholly unlikeable, a transparent snake. The relationships don’t make a lot of sense. Claire displays her infidelity so openly that we’re surprised she’s not doing it on purpose. The ostensible hero Les Burns seems an idiot for not picking up on her obvious scheming. He doesn’t mind cheating with Claire himself. Other onlookers are either cynical or clueless, like editor Hack Doyle (Walter Sande).

Beautiful Leslie Brooks won glamorous showgirl bits in big pictures, but was given dialogue and billing only in very low-budget pix. This appears to be her one starring showcase picture. The script lets her down, with no indication of a character behind Claire Cummings’ homicidal psychosis. Neither the script nor Ms. Brooks add much in the way of nuance to the role — to the very end Claire remains a blank slate. She’s an arresting presence, but her ‘icy’ aspect is mostly blank stares lacking in attitude.  The prize for screen chills of that kind was taken and kept by Helen Walker in Nightmare Alley.

A bit of  ‘Core Claire’ finally shows through when she reads about her criminal handiwork in the newspaper. She’s quite pleased to know that she’s the star — in secret — of the juciest gossip in town.

Otherwise Blonde Ice is very much a Poverty Row ‘B’ in direction and performances. With almost every exchange we think, ‘this isn’t particularly credible,’ or ‘that actor isn’t making the grade’ or ‘they’re just rushing to get it in the can.’

The male actors are all ‘B’ regulars, none of whom have the slightest romantic appeal. Most have that ’40s look of extra weight and blocky suits. Top-billed Robert Paige is thick and dull. Warren William look-alike John Holland just seems idiotic to turn his back on his obviously treacherous bride. Politician Michael Whalen is only slightly more interesting, while slimy office lizard James Griffith tries too hard to be a poor man’s Zachary Scott.

Also trying too hard is Russ Vincent, whose roughneck charter pilot helps Claire establish an alibi and then works a blackmail angle on her. Dressed in a tough-guy jacket and pilot’s cap, he’s completely unthreatening. The happiest outcome of Blonde Ice is learning that actors Vincent and Brooks would marry and raise children, and enjoy a long marriage.

 The best performance in the movie is from Emory Parnell, who always made an impact in even the smallest roles. He’s the kind of actor who ought to be given a spotlight sidebar at TCM, but never is. Parnell’s Police Captain attends to the murder investigations, and takes charge of every scene he’s in. Parnell is not the romantic leading man type, but if he were playing Claire’s lover, he’d ‘fill in’ the human interest missing in the script and direction. His incredibly long list of credits includes dozens of familiar titles; he’s particularly good as a political rabble-rouser in Jack Bernhard’s Violence.

Blonde Ice is careful to give Ms. Brooks an attractive costume change with most every scene. Some of the cinematography is also a cut above.  In other respects it reverts to standard Poverty Row fare. A fancy hotel suite looks more like Andy Hardy’s living room, and the newspaper office is barely more than a couple of desks — all of the movie’s sets might have been squeezed into one tinysound stage. **  In the parlance of Charles Flynn’s ‘Schlock/Kitsch/Hack Movies’ essay, the story of killer Claire plays out in a B-movie nowhere, where people aren’t real and every plot turn begs credibility.

 

When Olive Films released numerous flawless Blu-rays of Republic Pictures’ output, we discovered that most had excellent cinematography and some good acting, but weak screenplays — like No Man’s Woman, another movie in which a ‘bad woman’ engineers schemes that wouldn’t work in Junior High School. Blonde Ice too often just goes through the motions, especially when it comes time to for Claire to self-destruct. Her odd confession is entirely unmotivated.

The rushed final scene has “We’ve gotta be wrapped in 40 minutes!” written all over it. The last shot manages an okay visual composition, but the show ends oddly — it looks as if everybody’s going home, leaving the janitor to clean up the dead body they’ve left on the floor.

 Typical of the film’s overall lack of imagination is the ‘frosty’ main title art. It belongs on a movie that takes place in the Yukon gold rush.

Lovers of Poverty Row films should know that Film Classics Inc. began by distributing re-issues during WW2. Its president Joseph Bernhard began making new films around 1947. FC didn’t exactly have the pick of Hollywood talent, although it did luck onto cameramen like the legendary Eugen Schüfftan, who had difficulty with the Hollywood guilds.

Blonde Ice stands out in the company’s list of releases. Either the son or nephew of Film Classics’ president, its director Jack Bernhard was an ex-Universal employee who had a minor career going at Monogram as the director of the noirs Decoy,  Violence and  The Hunted.

Jack Bernhard had spent WW2 in England as an Army Air Corps flyer. There he wooed actress Jean Gillie, and brought her to America to star in his first feature, Decoy. Gillie received positive reviews but no big career offers. Whatever the reason, the marriage ended and she returned to England, where she died of an illness just a couple of years later, at age 33.

Claire Cummings in Blonde Ice is a pale shaddow of Jean Gillie’s impressive femme fatale Margot Shelby in Decoy. Unlike the treacherous Margot, Claire never seems in control of anything, or even fully engaged in her own greedy desires. Blonde Ice is a perfect example of a Poverty Row ‘B’ that seems to unspool in some narrative-handicapped corner of The Twilight Zone.

Republic Pictures stayed intact for ten more years, but most of Poverty Row disappeared between 1948 and 1952, as TV eroded America’s moviegoing habit. Monogram reinvented itself as Allied Artists. Film Classics merged with Eagle-Lion Films in 1950, and in 1951 both were absorbed into Arthur Krim’s newly-organized United Artists.

 


 

ClassicFlix’s Blu-ray of  Blonde Ice is an excellent HD encoding of a film we’ve previously known as an unsightly Public Domain remnant. It is billed as being sourced from “35mm elements preserved by the BFI National Archive,” and indeed this presentation begins with a British Censor card.

The handsome images show that Poverty Row ‘made real movies’ — the opening scene features Brooks’ shining wedding gown and the nightclub scenes actually achieve a little atmosphere. Director Bernhard and the cameraman George Robinson also move the camera more than we expect in a PRC picture. Before this show Robinson had filmed nearly a hundred pictures; he’d been working steadily since 1917. We recognize his earlier Universal horrors — the Spanish  Drácula,  The Invisible Ray,  Dracula’s Daughter , and his credits continued with titles like Jack and the Beanstalk and  Tarantula.

The disc has no extras, just trailers for other ClassicFlix shows. We’re still wondering about rumors that Edgar Ulmer really wrote the story for Blonde Ice.  Ulmer probably pitched in everywhere at PRC, as did some of his associates on this film. Producer Martin Mooney is said to have partly written Detour; production manager George Moskov also worked with Ulmer at PRC and is credited as the screenwriter of Ulmer’s ethnic Yiddish musical Green Fields.

We love the color cover artwork, an original poster image that appears to have been worked up from a publicity shoot. Somebody on the team understood the pulp thriller appeal.

 


Unnecessary personal sidebar. . . Once scene gave me a chill of recognition.  At one point Claire is shown driving a 1948 Willys 4-63 station wagon. The ‘fake woody’ was the vehicle on which I learned to drive. It was torture. The front seat (no seat belts) didn’t adjust much and my foot barely reached the clutch pedal . . . which had a truck-like spring so hard to push, I had to grip the steering wheel to get purchase. Being taught by my father the Air Force sergeant wasn’t easy, either. But by the time I got the hang of that car I could drive anything.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


Blonde Ice
Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Fair but Good for B-picture appeal
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailers.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed:
August 23, 2023
(6983ice)

* Kings of the B’s: Working Within the Hollywood System an anthology of film history and criticism by Todd McCarthy & Charles Flynn.
**  TV shows were once produced much like old B pictures, but with better production values. This I learned first-hand in 1975, sneaking in to see Peter Falk film episodes of Columbo at General Services Studio. The entire sound stage was dark except for a small set in one corner — but seven or eight other sets were cleverly sandwiched into the rest of the stage space. They’d do all the interiors right there in that same little space. Actors like Zohra Lampert sat in folding chairs outside to catch some sun, and welcomed small talk from passers-by.CINESAVANT

Visit CineSavant’s Main Column Page
Glenn Erickson answers most reader mail:
cinesavant@gmail.com

Text © Copyright 2023 Glenn Erickson

About Glenn Erickson

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 6.51.08 PM

Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

4 3 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
3 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dick Dinman

Love Emory Parnell. His scene with Myrna Loy in MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE
is the funniest scene in a funny film.

Robin

If you were able to chat with Zohra Lampert even for a few moments, I envy you!

3
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x