Blonde Ice (1948) is a San Francisco noir based on the Whitman Chambers mystery novel Once Too Often (1938). It's a top-notch poverty-row femme fatale extravaganza with Leslie Brooks in her only great role, as Claire "the blonde Svengali."
Claire is a social climbing sociopath so over the top bad that it can sometimes seem like nothing more than Hollywood misogyny exploding out of control. But her sociopathic behavior is by & large within the clinical definition, & it's actually kind of cool to see a femme fatale motivated by nothing but her own interests.
In most film noirs the bad girl may be very bad for the hero, but she has a big soft mushy spot for him anyway, even if he carts her off to prison in the end. Not until Claire's final confession does she appear to have any motivation beyond acquiring wealth & social standing. Even her alleged fondness for sportswriter Les Brown (Robert Paige) seems to be more a selfish desire to marry well & have a hot lover on the side, making no concessions or compromises.
Thanking the gods for small favors, I was glad this relentlessly evil woman was for once not motivated by spurned love, nor does she weaken in the face of the hero's manly appeal. It's nice to see a femme fatale for once as true to her own villainy as male villains get to be.
On her wedding night Claire is already arranging to retain her old lover Les. But it's not long before her new hubby Carl Hanuman (John Holland) figures out she's a duplicitous slut & promises to start divorce proceedings before the ink is even dry on their marriage certificate. She vows one way or another to cling to Karl's wealth as community property, but he's not very fretful that a one-week marriage will much qualify her for much.
Blackie (Russ Vincent) is a sleezy private plane pilot who for five hundred dollars promises to get Claire to San Francisco & back to the honeymoon boudoir in record time. She manages to arrange an alibi for herself before her husband turns up dead. The police immediately figure out it was murder, but can't break Claire's alibi.
James Griffith, a wonderful character actor making his film debut, plays the seedy muck-raking reporter Al Herrick, who not only suspects Claire, but suspects the murder was planned out with her lover, sportswriter Les Brown.
She has taken up with her old beau Les, & even though he suspects her of being cold-hearted & deadly, he cannot build up immunity to her charms, & refuses to believe she could kill. He commits himself to helping her even if in the long run it ends up looking like he was himself the murderer.
Les's secretary June (Mildred Coles) would obviously be better for him in every way, but it's hard to compete against a sexy psycho. So Les tricks himself into believing Claire is now committed to him, though in fact she only wants him for fun & sport, & will need someone far higher on the social scale than a sportswriter for her second marriage.
Seeking a rising position of status, Claire puts the make on attorney Stanley Mason (John Holland), who is running for Congress. He eventually wins that seat & asks Claire to marry & move to D.C. with him.
Everything is going according to plan, but the Monkey in the works is the pilot who helped her phoney up an alibi. When he sees her picture in the paper, he puts it all together, & shows up to blackmail Claire for "fifty G." Personally I wouldn't've tried pushing a proven killer around like that.
Congressman Mason discovers Claire's duplicity in time to cancel the wedding, & Les has also at long last found some degree of clear-sightedness about her nature. In a fit of egomaniacal rage in failing to get her way, she kills Mason & arranges for Les to be caught with the weapon in his hand.
A psychiatrist (David Leonard), friend of the slain congressman, knows in his scientific gut Claire is a souless killer, even though the evidence against Les Brown is all the police can see. The final scene in which the psychiatrist confronts Claire with the police nearby is contrived, but thrilling.
The dvd comes with many extras, including an interview & a commentary track by film restorer Jay Fenton, film noir trailers, photo gallery, bios, a short essay on why Edgar Ulmer is suspected of having the written the first daft of Blonde Ice, & two unrelated short films.
"Soundies" were precursors to MTV music videos. Satan Wears a Satin Gown (1952) features Ray Barber singing a Gershwinesque swing-blues tune with a femme fatal theme, on a film noir set, while in film noir character. This is quite a pleasant little item.
An early British television series episode Into the Night: Homicide Squad (1950) is introduced by "the man who walks by night," a collector of unusual stories. The episode has a noirish look & the sound of an old-time radio play, such that the story could be followed by just the sound. It's the tale of Girl kills Boy in a jewel theft caper, with criminals pursued by Detective Duncan.
These extras help make up for the fact that the restoration of Blonde Ice is not very good. Sound quality is off & the film even after being cleaned up is quite damaged. Long believed to be a lost film, it's probable the source print was ruinous & this is as much restoration, within a budget, as was possible.
But it's funny to hear Jay Fenton interviewed about what a good job he did & how restoration makes old films look & sound as sharp & bright as when first released, a complete delusion where his work on Blonde Ice is concerned. But those of us gleeful that such films are being recovered at all can forgive a lot.
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