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.