Burt Lancaster and Joan Fontaine Find Gripping Noir Danger on the Streets of London.
DIRECTED BY NORMAN FOSTER/1948
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: JULY 14, 2020/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
“Kiss the Blood Off My Hands”. Has there ever been a more lurid, more evocative title for a thriller? It reads as though the Film Noir title generator went a little nuts.
But before you dismiss this as vintage marquee clickbait, there are two very important components to this film: Burt Lancaster, and Joan Fontaine.
Fontaine, top billed and radiant throughout, is in peak form here as Jane Wharton, a simple but hardened nurse who lost her man in the war. When former American POW Bill Saunders invades her apartment in a desperate attempt to hide from the police for accidentally killing a man in a bar, it’s love at first sight. Well, not really. Understandably, she wants him out. (And that’s long before she ever learns of the killing). But he can’t go, see. He’s gotta ride this thing out. Let things cool down. Then disappear when the getting’s good. They wind up in it for the long haul- but not without a little romance.
Lancaster, with his perpetual air of wounded bravado, pulls off the nearly impossible task of completely turning audience sympathy in favor of his character when literally the only thing we know about him is that he’s accidentally killed an innocent man, and then proceeded to hastily evade law enforcement over it. This being London, the cops brandish only clubs, not guns. Otherwise, Saunders would’ve likely been shot in the first five minutes. Those five minutes, as they unfold, consist of a beautifully frantic Film Noir chase through wet nighttime streets, alleyways, nooks, crannies, and cluttered rooftops. Later, Saunders will be mixed up with a persistent racketeer played by Robert Newton.
True fact: Kiss the Blood Off My Hands was the first film made by Lancaster’s production company, Norma Productions (which later became Hecht-Lancaster, then Hecht-Hill-Lancaster). Why this project, and why that title? The title, believe it or not, comes from the popular novel that it’s based upon, by Gerald Butler. Following an earnest attempt to retitle the film “The Unafraid”, an audience poll made it clear that the original title should remain.
The darkly glistening cinematography of Russell Metty (Touch of Evil, Calcutta) really shines on this all-new Blu-ray edition. Director Norman Foster (Journey into Fear) has brought forth a movie that, while not entirely unsung, is certainly not as sung about as it ought to be. Film Historian Jeremy Arnold does his part to spread the word of this oft-overlooked classic with his excellent and interestingly structured audio commentary. In the commentary’s obligatory cataloging of talent, he makes us wait to end to hear the details on Joan Fontaine. Apparently, she did not hit it off with Lancaster at all and was actually pregnant while filming this. One supposes that that accounts for both her character’s inner glow and her preference for baggy sweaters.
In the Film Noir department, this one’s got it in spades. At one point, while Fontaine is hiding in a dark alley, a stranger is suddenly revealed to be right behind her when he ignites a cigarette. If that’s not a classic Noir trope doled out with mischievous gusto, then what is? With still-potent star power and the kind of trouble-thrusted continuous momentum that never yields a dull moment, there are two immediate questions: Why isn’t Kiss the Blood Off My Hands more well known among the great films Noir, and also, how and/or why did it elude inclusion in Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ very recent line of Film Noir box sets (“The Dark Side of Cinema” volumes 2, 3 and 4), where its bona fides would’ve been most welcome?
But, it’s no matter. Kiss the Blood Off My Hands is here now, and in absolutely fine form. The title, while never uttered or (thankfully) actualized on screen, does pack a wallop all its own. And it can truthfully be said that the movie lives up to it.