Blonde Ice/1948/Martin Mooney Productions/73 min.
If you asked angelic-looking Claire Cummings (Leslie Brooks) of “Blonde Ice” the secret to a happy marriage, her answer would be “Money, duh!” And if you happen to be a reasonably successful dude or perhaps just own a wallet, she’d probably hand you a cigarette case reading “All my love, Claire.”
This cookie-cutter approach has served her well with ex-boyfriends obnoxious Al Herrick (James Griffith) and regular-guy Les Burns (Robert Paige), both of whom were colleagues at the San Francisco Tribune, where she covered (what else?) society news. She’s still friendly with Al and Les, and they attend her wedding to wealthy businessman Carl Hanneman (John Holland).
But Claire doesn’t let little things like marriage vows get in the way of having it all. At her wedding, she’d much rather kiss Les than Carl. So, she does. Then it’s off to married life and a bit of a bumpy road with Carl when he objects to her blowing his money at a racetrack. Being a stick in the mud does not go over well with Claire, especially since she’d rather be with Les.
Nothing if not efficient, Claire comes up with a clever alibi before shooting Carl and making it look like suicide. The police find this hard to swallow, but there’s no evidence to contradict her story. Now she’s got wads of cash, a nice house and a new wardrobe for her dates with Les.
It’s while they’re awaiting their chicken-salad dinners at a posh restaurant that she gets a look at attorney and aspiring politician Stanley Mason (Michael Whalen). Les is a sweetheart, of course, but this Congressman-to-be could offer her so much more. Besides wads of cash, a nice house and a new wardrobe, she really needs status, influence and power. Naturally, Mason is smitten within minutes of meeting her, and she easily juggles him and Les.
Unfortunately for Claire, Mason’s network of supporters includes psychiatrist Dr. Geoffrey Kippinger (David Leonard) who’s apparently the first man on Earth to suss her out and resist her charm. Even so, he’s not much of a match for her ever-devious mind and, by the end, three more people are dead at her hands. She’s exposed as the treacherous, conniving killer and, just for good measure, receives this wounding assessment, “She wasn’t even a good newspaper woman.” Hilarious!
“Blonde Ice” is a great B movie that makes the most of its limited budget. Veteran lensman George Robinson lends visual flourish (strong composition, lots of ominous, claustrophobic shadow) and Kenneth Gamet’s screenplay crackles along with lines like: “Darling, let’s not quarrel. We can do that after we’re married.” And “I hated you because you were the first man who ever saw inside my mind. And I’m going to kill you.” Gamet wrote the screenplay from Whitman Chambers’ novel “Once Too Often.”
Brooks offers wide-eyed looks, innocent smiles and arched eyebrows aplenty. But it’s easy to overlook her restraint, considering that she’s playing a preposterous role. Griffith as Al exudes the right amount of sleaze; Paige as Les is human and likeable; Holland and Whalen as Claire’s husband and husband-to-be are, fittingly, a bit stiff. Emory Parnell does a nice turn as Police Capt. Bill Murdock and Russ Vincent is convincingly slimy as blackmailer Blackie Talon. Great name, no?
The most noirish element of “Blonde Ice” is the mystery of its director Jack Bernhard, also a writer and producer. Once on-staff at Universal, he worked steadily through the 1940s and made 12 B-movies (including “Decoy,” 1946; “Appointment for Murder” and “Search for Danger,” both from 1948; and 1949’s “Alaska Patrol”) before dropping out of sight.
Though perhaps not an accomplished stylist, Bernhard’s movies nonetheless have a distinctive stamp, particularly in “Decoy” and “Blonde Ice,” that reveals Bernhard’s uncommon ability to wrap outlandish material around a sordid core and keep a completely straight face. He draws solid performances and he’s a deft, never draggy, storyteller. “Blonde Ice” and “Decoy” are marvelously entertaining and make an excellent double bill.
Bernhard was briefly married to England’s Jean Gillie, who starred in “Decoy” as the hard-as-nails (one of the hardest in all film noir) femme fatale. Maybe without a bad girl at his side, Bernhard felt he wasn’t a bad enough boy, noirwise.
Note: You can watch the full movie at imdb.