Belita always gets her man.
The poster above was made to promote the crime thriller The Hunted, which premiered today in 1948 starring Preston Foster and Belita, the British ice skater who carved out a film career after her 1936 Olympic appearance. Playing to type, Belita is a former ice skater paroled four years after being arrested by her cop boyfriend Foster, who refused to believe she wasn't involved in a diamond heist. In fury she promised to kill both him and her defense attorney, who she claimed betrayed her. Now freed, she goes back to Foster—literally sneaking through his apartment window—and tries to convince him of her innocence.
Foster is hard-boiled at first, but slowly begins to have doubts, then begins to fall in love again. Is Belita an innocent woman, or is she a psychopath who'll make good on her promise to kill her enemies? Our advice: never trust anyone who'll slither through your window. For that matter never trust anyone who threatens to kill you. But Belita seems to adjust well to being free, taking an ice skating job and behaving in exemplary fashion. Maybe the threat was a bluff, and she's innocent after all. Meanwhile Foster does that cop thing and digs into the old heist.
The Hunted is not a top effort. It's somewhat limply scripted, and Foster isn't exactly a furnace of charisma. The movie also plays on the tired trope (even then) of the slimy defense attorney. The movie's most serious flaw, for us, is Belita's attraction to one of the more undeserving lead males in cinema history. But we vintage movie buffs are used to that, right? The question that truly matters is whether the plotline keeps the viewer engaged, and on that score the movie succeeds, nudging it ever so slightly onto the positive side of the ledger.
As a side note, film noir fans with sharp eyes will notice that the movie borrows the coin flipping gimmick from Johnny O'Clock, though Foster is not nearly as good at it as Dick Powell. That goes for his acting too. But The Hunted has Belita, and moreover, it has her skating. She's graceful, fun to watch, and turns in a decent performance opposite her empty suit of a love interest. That isn't a ringing endorsement, but it's the best we can offer.
I like to call what happens next the women's short program because it'll be over before you know it.
Olympic ice skater-turned-actress Belita gets the drop on an unseen foe in this crop of a larger promo image made by Allied Artists Pictures for its 1948 film noir The Hunted. We'll circle back to the movie—possibly in reverse while preparing for a triple axel—but if you want a teaser, we'll tell you that Belita has a skating routine in it, which makes it worth a look for that reason alone.
Suspense so thick you could cut it with a sword.
Above: an alternate poster for the 1946 film noir Suspense. This one is similar to the one we showed you before, except Belita gets to be front and center by herself. Swords—it looks like a knife but it's definitely a sword—feature prominently in the movie, so the use of one as a central element on the art is mandatory. You can read a little more here, and see a lovely image of Belita here.
Now that I've knocked all the ladies dead here's a little something for the gents.
Here's an unusual and beautiful promo photo of British ice skater-turned-actress Belita from 1956's Invitation to the Dance, in which she appeared with Gene Kelly. Everyone is on the floor because the number she does is “Ring Around the Rosy,” where they all fall down. We looked around for a clip of it, but with no luck. You'll have to imagine it. But for a consolation prize we have a bunch of pix of her swimming in the Town House pool at this link.
Proceed carefully—ice may occur at major plot points.
The thriller Suspense featured the unusual promo poster you see above, which we think really captures the visual feel of film noir in a way posters more typical of the genre do not. Those posters are amazing, but this one is a nice change of pace. The movie stars Olympic ice skater and sometime magazine model Belita, alongside Barry Sullivan, an incredibly prolific actor who appeared in scores of films. Sullivan plays a hustler who weasels his way up from lowly peanut vendor to fast living impresario at a wildly popular Los Angeles ice skating extravaganza. The catalyst for his ascent is his radical suggestion that Belita leap through a circle of swords. Only in old movies, right? “Hey, that circle of swords gag was a great idea! How'd you like to manage the joint!”
Belita's ice skater is a riff on the standard film noir chanteuse, except instead of doing a few a nightclub numbers she does a few skate routines. She's as good as advertised, too. But the success of any film romance hinges on the chemistry between the boy and girl and here it feels contrived. Both Belita and Sullivan are decent actors, but he's a little too charisma challenged, in our view, to attract someone whose life is going as skatingly as Belita's. But it's in the script, so okay, she likes the schlub. What Suspense does well, though, is visuals. For instance, if you check out the film watch what director Frank Tuttle does near the end when the shadow of the aforementioned sword contraption appears outside Sullivan's office. Beautiful work, suggesting that karma may indeed be a circle.
It occurred to us that on the whole, Suspense uses ice the same way Die Hard uses a skyscraper. The entire film is improved above the norm by the freshness of the unusual backdrop. Add expensive production values and visuals worthy of study in a film school and you have a noir whose many plusses cancel out its few minuses. We recommend it.
As a side note, the ice show is staged in the Pan-Pacific Auditorium, one of the most breathtaking art deco structures ever built, which was of course eventually demolished because that's what they do in Los Angeles. Actually, a fire gutted it before a wrecking ball was brought in to finish the job, but the building had been abandoned for seventeen years, which would not have happened if anyone important in the city cared about historically significant architecture. Suspense brings the Pan-Pacific, just above, back to life, and that's another reason to watch it. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1946.
I'm going to stand right here in your personal space and repeat myself until you say yes.
We're supposed to do a screen kiss, but I'm totally gonna slip you some tongue.
Wow, these are razor sharp, but you'll be fine. Unrelated question—how's your insurance coverage?
Ice is nice, but harder than water.
British skater and actress Belita, who was born Maria Belita Jepson-Turner, frolics in the pool at the Town House Hotel in Los Angeles for a cover of Life that hit newsstands today in 1945. We've shown you this pool before. A window from a swanky hotel bar known as the Zebra Room provided a view through one wall, which meant patrons could watch swimmers while enjoying cocktails. The hotel put together a group of women called Aqua Maidens who performed swim shows, but Belita was not a Maiden. She was already famous for skating in the 1936 Olympics (though she had finished only sixteenth), and had established a Hollywood career with 1943's Silver Skates and 1944's Lady, Let's Dance. She would also make 1946's Suspense, which was unique for combining skating with film noir. In addition to being an ace skater Belita was an accomplished dancer, and the Life photos show her demonstrating her underwater ballet skills. She even wears a tutu in a couple of shots. Interestingly, Picture Post, a British Life-like magazine that was considered imitative, had already featured Belita on its cover, also at the Town House, two months earlier on June 16, 1945. Doubtless both sets of photos were from them same session. So in this case Life was the imitator.
Belita wasn't the most famous ice skater in Hollywood during the 1940s—Sonja Henie was a huge star, and Vera Ralston was probably better known as well. That may be one reason why Belita managed only eight or nine films before moving on to other pursuits. She eventually retired to the village of Montpeyroux, France, where she died in 2005 at age eighty-two. But the photos below are eternal.
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