Sunday, October 21, 2018

Blonde Ice (1948)

July 24, 1948, release date
Directed by Jack Bernhard
Screenplay by Kenneth Gamet
Based on the novel Once Too Often by Whitman Chambers
Music by Irving Gertz
Edited by W. L. Bagier, Jason H. Bernie
Cinematography by George Robinson

Robert Paige as Les Burns
Leslie Brooks as Claire Cummings Hanneman
Russ Vincent as Blackie Talon, the pilot
Michael Whalen as Stanley Mason
James Griffith as Al Herrick
Emory Parnell as police captain Bill Murdock
Walter Sande as Hack Doyle
John Holland as Carl Hanneman
Mildred Coles as June Taylor, newspaper secretary
Selmer Jackson as District Attorney Ed Chalmers
David Leonard as Dr. Geoffrey Klippinger
Julie Gibson as Mimi Doyle
Rory Mallinson as Sergeant Benson
Jack Del Rio as Roberts, the butler

Distributed by Film Classics, Inc.
Produced by Martin Mooney Productions, Inc.

Blonde Ice is another great B film that packs in a lot of information in its short running time. The plot is not particularly complicated, and the film is barely over an hour long. But it helps to pay attention to every bit of detail because visual details often help to further the narrative. and nothing is wasted in the telling of the story.

The opening sequence of the film begins with one shot after another: a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge cuts to the exterior of a large house, then cuts to the interior of the house and a wedding scene. The bride, Claire Cummings, is late, which gives her ex-boyfriends, Al Herrick and Les Burns, and her boss and newspaper editor, Hack Doyle, a chance to talk about her and give viewers a glimpse into her character. Claire is marrying Carl Hanneman, but she doesn’t plan to be faithful to him. She makes a point of meeting Les Burns on the terrace and saying goodbye to him right after the ceremony, declaring her love for him and kissing him in view of many of the wedding guests.

(This blog post about Blonde Ice is all about spoilers.)

Claire Cummings is determined to have money, fame, and power, and she will marry anyone and do anything, including murder, to get what she wants. Blonde Ice reminds me in some ways of Too Late for Tears, another film noir with a fierce femme fatale in the lead role: Lizabeth Scott as Jane Palmer. Too Late for Tears was released a little more than a year after Blonde Ice, in August 1949. Both leads head for self-destruction, which is to be expected in film noir, of course. Both films were also rescued from near-oblivion: Blonde Ice by Jay Fenton and Too Late for Tears by the Film Noir Foundation.

I wrote about Too Late for Tears in August 2018. Click here for my blog post.

Both Blonde Ice and Too Late for Tears are in the public domain and can be viewed online at the Internet Archive. Click on the film title below for a link to each respective film.
I recommend watching Blonde Ice on DVD, however, so you can hear the commentary by Jay Fenton.

Les Burns is hopelessly in love with Claire Cummings, in spite of what he knows about her and her ambitions. Les Burns’s secretary June Taylor states the obvious for him: “Apparently Claire can get anything she wants out of anybody at any time. Can’t she?” Les doesn’t even bother to answer; he just gives June a smirk and a resigned look. He stands by Claire (now Claire Hanneman) after her first husband’s death and the subsequent murder investigation. With all the suspicion swirling around Claire, he declares to her his loyalty:
Les Burns: “. . . I said I’d stand by you.”
Claire Cummings: “And you have. And I love you the more for it. You know I do love you, don’t you, darling?”
Les Burns: “I think you do, Claire. In a peculiar, mixed-up sort of way.”
Les believes Claire; he pushes aside her actions and prefers to believe what she tells him.

Click here for a review of Blonde Ice by Jay Fenton. In addition to discussing the film, Fenton also describes how some classic films are rescued because hobbyists collected prints of films, sometimes illegally.

Click here for more information about the Film Noir Foundation.

Les learns that Claire’s alibi for Monday night, the night that her first husband Carl Hanneman was killed, might not be so airtight and she is under suspicion once more. He has a few too many drinks and goes to Claire Hanneman’s house to confront her himself. He finds her dressed for dinner and ready to meet Stanley Mason, a candidate for the House of Representatives and her next conquest. Here is part of their conversation:
Les Burns: “Claire, there’s only two people could’ve profited by Hanneman’s death. I’m one of ’em. You’re the other.”
Claire Cummings: “Why, how dare you come in here accusing me.”
Les: “You only married Hanneman for this [meaning his house and his money]. You admitted it a dozen times.”
Claire: “But I didn’t kill him. How can you even say it? I didn’t kill him.”
Les: “I didn’t say you did. But if you know anything, you gotta tell me. Were you in this room Monday night [the night of Hanneman’s murder]?”
Claire: “No.”
Les: “You might have come in and seen someone. I’ve got to know.”
Claire: “Stop shaking me.”
Les: “Then tell me the truth.”
Claire: “Let go of me. I thought you were going to stand by me. Why you’re drunk.”
Les: “I’m only trying to help you and me.”
Claire: “Huh, help me? You’re accusing me of murder. How do I know you didn’t kill him? You were in town.”
Les: “Claire.”
Claire: “I’ve as much right to accuse as you have.”
Les: “But I’m not accusing you.”
Claire: “Get out of this house.”
Les: “I once said I couldn’t figure you out. I can now. You’re not a normal woman. You’re not warm. You’re cold, like ice. Yeah. Like ice. Blonde ice.”

Stanley Mason wins his election campaign. On election night, along with his political victory, Mason announces his engagement to Claire to all the guests at the celebration, including Les Burns. Les walks out. Now he has a motive for wanting Mason dead. When Mason learns that Claire still loves Les, he breaks off the engagement, which gives Claire a reason to kill Mason and pin the murder on Les.

Sometime later, a friend of Stanley Mason, psychiatrist Dr. Geoffrey Klippinger, goes to Claire’s office at the newspaper to confront her, to ask her directly if she killed Stanley Mason. Hack Doyle (the editor of the newspaper) and Al Herrick (another reporter) join them in Claire’s office, and Doyle says that the police are on their way. Claire tries to shoot Dr. Klippinger with a handgun she keeps in her desk drawer. She is accidentally shot while Herrick wrestles her for the gun; it’s not clear if Claire shot herself or she was shot by someone else in the struggle.

After Claire falls dead to the floor of her office, Captain Bill Murdock, Sergeant Benson, and Les Burns join the crowd in her office. All the male characters that are still alive are on-screen to stand over her.
Hank Doyle: “You were a little late, Murdock.”
Captain Murdock: “Well, it was probably better this way. I can scarcely believe it. A woman as beautiful as that.”
Les Burns: “You didn’t know her very well. None of us really knew her very well. [pause during which Sergeant Benson, Al Herrick, Hank Doyle, Captain Bill Murdock, and Dr. Geoffrey Klippinger leave and only Les remains] She wasn’t even a good newspaperwoman.”
Les Burns turns to leave and shuts the office door behind him. It’s a fitting ending for a film noir: The female lead—the femme fatale—is dead.

And after her death, all the men around Claire are in attendance to pass judgment on her. She was ungrateful: Life gave her beauty, and she still wasn’t happy. How dare she! Captain Murdock, an officer of the law, thinks she’s better off dead. Even the man who loves her has to diminish her: Les Burns has the last disparaging word about a woman who ruled his life because he could never quite get over her, despite knowing her better than everyone else and knowing exactly what he was getting into.

The film ends with comments about Claire’s looks and her lack of journalistic ability, but not a single word is mentioned about her crimes and all the violence she caused. And no one mentions if Claire’s death should be investigated, just for the record. How dare they.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Affair in Trinidad (1952)

July 29, 1952, release date
Directed by Vincent Sherman
Screenplay by Berne Giler, James Gunn
Based on a story by Virginia Van Upp, Berne Giler
Music by George Duning
Edited by Viola Lawrence
Cinematography by Joseph Walker

Rita Hayworth as Chris Emery
Glenn Ford as Steve Emery
Alexander Scourby as Max Fabian
Valerie Bettis as Veronica Huebling
Torin Thatcher as Inspector Smythe
Howard Wendell as Anderson
Karel Stepanek as Walters
George Voskovec as Doctor Franz Huebling
Steven Geray as Wittol
Walter Kohler as Peter Bronec
Juanita Moore as Dominique
Mort Mills as Martin, Wittol’s henchman
Ralph Moody as the coroner

Produced by The Beckworth Corporation
Distributed by Columbia Pictures

Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth also star in Gilda, another noir favorite of mine. Gilda gets even more attention, it seems to me. Maybe because Gilda was released first. The plot in both films is similar in many ways, but I think the international intrigue is explained more clearly in Affair in Trinidad within the context of the narrative. Modern viewers (me!) don’t need to search online to understand the intrigue and make sense of the plot.

Many bloggers and members of the Classic Movie Blog Association are celebrating Rita Hayworth for the 100 Years of Rita Hayworth blogathon, running from October 17 to 19, 2018. Click here to visit the blog Love Letters to Old Hollywood, which is sponsoring the event. And click here to learn more about the blogathon itself. Many thanks, Michaela!

Affair in Trinidad starts right away with the mysterious death of an American living on the island of Trinidad. He’s quickly identified as Neal Emery, the husband of Chris Emery. Chris Emery has gained some notoriety for herself as the dancer and singer at the Caribe, a local nightclub that seems to have a dubious reputation, although no one says exactly why that is. A local millionaire, Max Fabian, sees Neal’s death as his chance to woo Chris Emery, but Neal’s brother Steve shows up unexpectedly for a visit, and he decides to investigate his brother’s death. It isn’t long before he and Chris are attracted to one another. Just like Gilda, there is a love triangle, with one of the players (Max Fabian) a ruthless purveyor of government secrets on the black market.

(This blog post about Affair in Trinidad contains spoilers.)

Inspector Smythe investigates Neal Emery’s death and realizes that Neal was murdered. He too sees opportunity in Neal’s death, but for an entirely different reason. He wants Chris to lure Max Fabian into a romantic relationship and find out what she can about his activities on the island. He seems to have no qualms about putting the recently widowed Chris in danger. Here’s the way Inspector Smythe describes Fabian to Chris: “He [Max Fabian] is a man who deals in political intrigue, secret information, treason. A man who’s grown rich by exploiting trouble and unrest wherever they exist. During the last war [World War II], he recruited saboteurs for the enemy. He bought and sold vital military information for both sides. . . .” Here are examples of Max Fabian’s recent—and dangerous—visitors to the island:
Walters is working for an unnamed government that has paid huge sums of money to Max Fabian for industrial and technological information.
Peter Bronec is an electronics and radar specialist.
Dr. Franz Huebling has written articles about B-2 rockets just after the war.
Veronica Huebling is Franz’s wife and a scout for new bases of operations.
Chris is reluctant at first to take on Inspector Smythe’s task, but he confiscates Chris’s passport and so Chris doesn’t have much choice.

When Steve Emery meets Dr. Huebling, he recognizes his name and knows that Huebling has written articles. His knowledge about the articles and about flying (he served as a pilot in World War II), draw Max Fabian’s attention. He worries about Steve Emery investigating his brother Neal’s death and perhaps finding out too much about his own activities. Fabian and his colleagues have reason to worry: They are stealing technology secrets, improving on the work, and preparing to sell it to the highest bidder, even if it’s an enemy of the United States. Dr. Franz Huebling describes Bronec’s work as follows: “. . . The German V-2, of which we were so proud, was a kindergarten toy compared to this [his latest work]. With launching bases in the Caribbean, there is not a vital area in the United States that is not within striking distance. . . .”

Just like Gilda, Affair in Trinidad is about more than international intrigue. While Chris and Steve get busy trying to save the future of the United States from any more harm in a postwar world, they also find time to develop feelings for one another. The necessity of acting the spy forces Chris to be evasive, however, and the two have to wade through many misunderstandings and hurt feelings before they can finally trust one another, which is a lot like the plot of Gilda. The following conversation, for example, could have been taken from Gilda:
Chris: “Steve, the things you believe about me, they’re not true.”
Steve: “Forget it. You don’t have to account to me for anything.”
Chris: “But I want to.”
Steve: “Then why didn’t you tell me about the crest [on Fabian’s stationery and on his glassware], about Fabian, about everything? What is it between you and him?”
Chris: “There’s nothing between us.”
Steve: “Is that why he looks at you the way he does? Like he can’t wait to get his arms around you?”
Chris: “I can’t help how he looks at me. But his arms have never been around me. Nobody’s arms. Not for a long time.”
Steve: “Not even Neal’s?”
Chris: “Not even Neal’s.”
Glenn Ford even slaps Rita Hayworth across the face later in the film, at Fabian’s birthday party, just as he did in Gilda, in Ballin’s nightclub, when Gilda danced provocatively for all the nightclub guests.

I wrote about Gilda in October 2017; click here to read my blog post.

Dominique is Chris’s servant and plays the role of Greek chorus, explaining Trinidadian customs, commenting on Steve’s mistakes and social blunders, and noting Chris’s grief and need to move on—with Steve, of course. She encourages the budding attraction between Steve and Chris:
Dominique: “Do you like him?”
Chris: “Well, he seems very nice.”
Dominique: “Well, I like him.”
Chris: “That’s good.”
Dominique: “This one is a man. The other was a shadow of him.”
Chris: “Well, I hadn’t thought much about it.”
Dominique: “Maybe it is appropriate that you should. I shock you, perhaps? When one day is over, another day begins.”
Chris: “West Indian proverb?”
Dominique: “West Indian household hint.”
Dominique doesn’t know about Inspector Smythe’s plans for Chris to act as a spy, but I doubt that would have changed her mind about Steve as a suitable partner for Chris. She plays the “wise native woman,” which seems outdated and even offensive to modern audiences, but her role in the film is nonetheless an important one.

Affair in Trinidad, although fraught with danger for both Chris and Steve, didn’t seem as frantic to me as Gilda did. Gilda was released in 1946, very soon after the end of World War II. The war was over, but the uncertainty about rebuilding Europe and transitioning to peacetime in the United States probably had a larger influence on the general atmosphere of uncertainty and menace in Gilda than it did in Affair in Trinidad. By 1952, the United States had more experience of the postwar period and was settling into its role as a superpower.

Both films are interesting to compare for the context in which they were produced and the story in each. And I would like to point out that both films can be enjoyed on their own, without any comparisons. Both are great stories with a lot of star power.