Fate is fickle, especially when it comes to movie actresses. One day it shines upon an up and coming young actress, the next she is relegated to “sexpot” roles only to die young before her star ever ascends. Hollywood lore is littered with such tragic tales of would-be starlets. I met such a blonde beauty the other night in the B-movie 50’s noir BLACKOUT. And the blonde beauty in question is British actress Belinda Lee.
Belinda had the movie star looks to be huge. She had the acting chops too. Not that she got the chance to flex them very much. Through a confluence of events and misfortune, Belinda was never given the shot I believe she deserved. And like so many actresses throughout time, her time in the limelight was relegated to cheap Noirs and, later, Sword & Sandal epics. But at least we have Blackout, the best Noir that Hammer Films (yes, the same studio famous for Christopher Lee Dracula movies and other such B-movie Monster cult classics) made in the mid-50’s. Starring opposite the equally relegated-to-oblivion star Dane Clark.
In the movie, Belinda plays the daughter of a murdered millionaire who may or may not be behind his death. She plays the role convincingly enough, beguiling poor Dane with her beauty into investigating who the real killer may be – all the while twisting and turning his guts over like any self-respecting blonde bombshell with a secret will do. What I liked about this movie is that it had an original plot, but more importantly their was chemistry between Belinda and Dane. I actually cared about what happened to these characters and wanted to see them end up together in the end, even if she was bad for his health. Hell, isn’t that the point of most noirs – even when you win the girl you lose?
The film was shot for nickels in the streets of London and did little for Belinda’s career. And try as she might to be taken seriously, her looks were her worst enemy. She would continue to work but in increasingly cheesier supporting roles in some of the more tawdry and forgettable technicolor extravaganzas. So, what is a would-be serious actress to do in her mid-twenties stuck in a rut? Belinda moved to Italy, of course. But instead of attracting quality material – instead Belinda ended up working in tawdry Italian B-movies, speaking in a language that wasn’t even her own. Before long, her marriage crumbled and she was implicated in an affair with a government official that would end his career and send her flying off to America to ply her trade stateside.
Belinda had just wrapped a film in Las Vegas and was on her way to a vacation in Los Angeles when she was killed in a car crash in San Bernardino at the age of 26. The would be star never had the chance to strut her stuff on Hollywood & Vine. I’d like to think that she could have reinvented herself in classier fare – the kind of vehicles that made Greer Garson and Deborah Kerr household names. Alas, it was not to be for beautiful Belinda. All we have of her legacy now is a page on Wikipedia, some hard to find films and the above-par noir classic BLACKOUT.
Then again, how many people are remembered at all – let alone have their moment in a dark, moody murder mystery set in a turbulent post-WWII noir. In a way, Belinda was luckier than most who shoot for the stars and come up just short. She had the chance, she just never got the breaks but will always be remembered for her beauty and a few moments of celluloid gold. And maybe, just maybe, blogs like this one will keep her candle burning in the pantheon of near-forgotten starlets. A reminder of how much work goes into making an actress a star but without luck and the breaks necessary to open doors – comes and goes like a freight train in the night.
I enjoyed my one night with Belinda very much and I encourage any film aficionado, cinefile or anglophile for that matter to seek out Belinda Lee in BLACKOUT for their own night of dark pleasure. She won’t disappoint. Just remember never to turn your back on her.
And one more look of beautiful Belinda Lee for the road.