Sunday, September 06, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

As I wrote earlier today, Kino Lorber has released several film noir collections this summer.

Kino Lorber has also released, as a single title, KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS (1948), starring Burt Lancaster and Joan Fontaine.

Lancaster plays Bill Saunders, an American vet in postwar London. As we come to learn, Bill has a short fuse, due in part to his having spent two years in a POW camp. One night he slugs someone in a pub who dies from the resulting fall.

Bill takes off on the run and hides in the apartment of Jane Wharton (Fontaine), a nurse. The two gradually build a friendship, with Jane having no idea about Bill's role in the death at the pub, but when Bill's temper gets the best of him again he's sent off to jail for a few months.

When Bill is released from prison Jane gets him a job as a driver for the clinic where she works, and the pair fall in love. However, it's impossible for Bill to move on with his life, as he's being blackmailed over the pub murder by Harry Carter (Robert Newton). After a confrontation between Harry and Jane, she and Bill have big decisions to make about their future.

This movie has its fans, but I honestly enjoyed it a lot less than I anticipated, for a few reasons, starting with the fact that it's a very dark plot.

I'm a big admirer of some of Lancaster's other dark films, such as CRISS CROSS (1949) and SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957), but they each had much better scripts and supporting casts helping to make them compelling viewing.

Lancaster is one of those actors I can take or leave depending on my overall feelings about a film, and this one never particularly engaged me. I suppose one could say he's effective here portraying a seriously messed-up man, but is he enjoyable to watch in the role? For me the answer is no.

The movie portrays Bill making one bad decision after another, but even with his POW background he never evoked much sympathy from me. (And did they have to throw in a scene of Bill being flogged in prison? Super-enjoyable and necessary to the plot...not.) The script simply never gives us a reason to be interested in Bill; I was rooting for Fontaine but not for the couple's relationship. I never really felt he was redeemable and frankly didn't believe his change in attitude in the film's final moments.

I also had an issue with the main supporting actor being Robert Newton, who I've come to feel is one of the most annoying actors ever on film. Pairing Newton and Lancaster just wasn't an interesting combination for me, especially placing them in the dreariest, darkest version of one of my very favorite cities, London. (It wouldn't have worked as he's not British, but I found myself thinking "Where is Dan Duryea when you need him?" What he could have done with the role of the blackmailer...)

I enjoy Fontaine and for me she was the film's saving grace, as a shy but nervy woman who allows herself to draw closer to Bill than she should out of sheer loneliness. Her nuanced performance was interesting and held my attention, even while I was mentally warning her away from Bill. Surely there were nice men in London who'd want to meet a lovely nurse? I never really bought her relationship with Bill, but that's more a fault of the script than her performance.

Perhaps the movie caught me on a bad day and I should give it another look, but for now this was 79 overlong minutes for me.

KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS was directed by Norman Foster (RACHEL AND THE STRANGER). It was filmed by Russell Metty, who also shot the last movie I saw, THE FEMALE ANIMAL (1958).

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray print, from a new 2K master, looks terrific. Extras include the trailer, a gallery of five additional trailers for films available from Kino Lorber, and a commentary track by Jeremy Arnold. I really enjoy Jeremy's well-researched and thoughtful commentary tracks so I may give it a listen soon to learn more about the film and perhaps see if there's something I should better appreciate!

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I like the noir look of Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, but thought upon my first viewing that this is one that will improve upon a second watch. For me, this was a step in the right direction. It doesn't sound like any more viewings will work for you. However, I bet the blu-ray looks great.

5:38 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Caftan Woman,

I kind of wondered if this is the type of film that gets better for me the second time around, knowing what to expect...really not sure. I may find myself watching it at a film noir fest one day and will find out! :) Interested in your take, as always!

Best wishes,

6:28 PM  

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