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‘Bonde Ice’ is an irritably misguided attempt at putting a femme fatale front and center

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Blonde Ice

Written by Kenneth Gamet

Directed by Jack Bernhard

U.S.A., 1948

A wedding day is a joyous occasion to celebrate the unison between two people deeply in love with one another, ready and willing to spend the remainder of their lives together until death do them part. Claire Cummings’ (Leslie Brooks) understanding of what a wedding represents renounces most of those delightful thoughts, only retaining and applying the part about death. Claire is a vixen, a conniving, duplicitous witch who spends her energy on marrying wealthy, important people, only to concoct their demise shortly thereafter, reaping the benefits of fanciful wills in the process. Her matrimonial reunion to a powerful businessman in the film’s opening scene irks polite, clean-cut Les Burns (Robert Paige), with whom Claire to used to work at a newspaper. Deep down he loves Claire, naively unaware of her true intentions. When her hubby discovers circumstantial evidence that Claire still holds feelings for Les, he opts to divorce her. Wrong move. So begins Les’ grisly investigation for the truth about Claire’s psyche.

When reading on the subject of film noir, enthusiasts may come across commentary stating that back when such pictures were being produced, studios rarely held the projects in the same high regard as do film historians and fans today. To put it bluntly, they were b-pictures, endeavours given limited budgets and significant time constraints to create the final project. Scholars, historians and astute cinephiles of the time and today view the movement in a different light obviously, but that changes nothing of the fact that when they were being made, they were not exactly thought of as high priority projects but rather quick cash grabs that offered audiences titillating and impressively violent tales that would efficiently sell some tickets. The benefit of hindsight has helped many find diamonds in the rough, but such success is not a constant, as evidenced by director Jack Bernhard’s 1948 truly b-picture quality Blonde Ice.

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Try as he might, director Bernhard’s best efforts are insufficient in dragging the film out of the depths of poverty. From the lame-brain script, which throws an interesting idea or two at least, to the cast, Blonde Ice fizzles rather than sizzles basically from the first scene. Mystery and subtlety are far from being prerequisite qualifiers when it comes to noir, but sometimes a story’s presentation is simply too obvious, too on-the-nose for it to ever engage the viewer and challenge them in any minimum capacity. There is nary an iota of depth to anything that happens in Blonde Ice, every plot point is as clear as daylight, the evidence of which is accentuated by a collection of stunningly hammy or stiff as a ply of wood acting performances. It proves terribly difficult to invest one’s self in the story when its elements are communicated as comically clumsy as they are in this instance.

Channeling such harsh sentiments into specific argumentative points in a proper review proves challenging because the plagued parts really mesh into one stew of disappointment. Logically, one supposes, it begins with the picture’s starlet, Leslie Brooks. There exists the finest of lines between a performance played with vivacity and brilliance in the shape of Jane Greer in Out of the Past or Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity and what fails utterly in the case of Leslie Brooks here. It is as though there was no definitive guidance provided to hone in on anything of note, resulting in the part being played for camp. Brooks just appears to be unleashed to play unequivocally evil, be it behind the scenes or smack in front of the eyes of those she aims to dispatch in the coming scenes. Evil can be played with tact, with precision, like a spider carefully ensnaring an unsuspecting fly in its web. One knows what is happening, what the evildoer’s intent is but it is nonetheless shown and told through a prism of innuendo or sophistication. These qualities are totally absent in Brooks’ Blonde Ice performance. She would make the members of the fictional band Spinal Tap proud because she definitely plays the part up to 11.

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Robert Paige, as Les Burns, the film’s protagonist, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Whereas Brooks embellishes, Paige is truly a ‘stiff’. He showcases little to no heroism even though he clearly supposed to be a nice guy. There is no anti-hero business here, which in of itself is not a problem (a noir does not require the presence of an anti-hero as its central figure). The trouble is that Robert Paige gives nothing for the audience to latch onto. There are scenes in which he looks petrified, uncertain of how to play the scene. Is that the character? Is that the actor? Who knows. In any case, it certainly is not very interesting to watch.

The acting is but one part of what handicaps the film however. The entire production feels like a low, entry-level interpretation of the salacious cinematic stories that gripped audiences back in the day. Although it would perhaps be somewhat unfair to compare it to an untouchable classic such as Out of the Past, there is still some merit to the exercise. A film needs to trust its audience on some level, it needs to save something good for an audience that has waited for a denouement to a story about killing, duplicity and false love. The word that keeps springing to mind is ‘obvious’. Blonde Ice operates like it was made by people that wanted to make something in the same vein as a really good thriller, but were at their first ever attempt in filmmaking. The story is so startlingly telegraphed it’s a wonder no one thought it wise to perhaps re-work the script during the shoot.

There is a plethora of films from the noir movement that can be found via a wide variety of sources and that do a superior job at depicting what the style is all about. Blonde Ice is as near to the bottom of the barrel as it gets. Mercifully short, the picture is still a taxing watch. It features an irritably mundane, unimaginative script, wretchedly non-calibrated acting, pedestrian direction and concludes on an action beat that, even despite the swamp of misjudges that came before, might still leave one’s jaw dropped for how brutally silly it is. Leave this blonde out in the cold.

-Edgar Chaput


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