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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kiss The Blood Off My Hands (1948)

This post has been submitted as an entry in the For the Love of Film (Noir) blogathon, hosted by Marilyn Ferdinand and The Self-Styled Siren. Click here to donate.

The film's memorable title, which, like those of Kiss of Death, Kiss Me Deadly, and Murder My Sweet, provocatively blends sex and violence, certainly suggests that love can redeem someone

—The Encyclopedia of Film Noir1

Based on a 1940 novel
by Gerald Butler
Set in London just after the second world war, Burt Lancaster plays a traumatized veteran who becomes a fugitive after he strikes a fatal blow to to a saloon owner at closing time. After a thrilling chase sequence through the dark foggy streets and alleys, Burt makes his way through the open window of Joan Fontaine's apartment - her bedroom window, that is.

Joan plays a lonely young nurse, who doesn't have any family or friends. The handsome stranger's break-in is almost a welcome burst of excitement for her, and she lets him hide out in her apartment for awhile. The next afternoon they go walking together in a city zoo. "Never been in a zoo?" Joan asks. "Been in one all my life," replies Burt's character, who then shares how he'd been in a POW camp for two years. We also learn that her lover was killed in the war. Burt's uncontrollable temper lands him into more trouble, and he's sent to prison. A harsh scene occurs when Burt is lashed with a cat-o-nine tails, punishment in Britain (at the time) for assaulting an officer.

Robert Newton's
American film debut
After his stint, he and Joan get back together. To paraphrase the trailer, only her arms can tame the fury of his fists. She even helps him to find a job as a truck driver delivering penicillin from her hospital. Robert Newton, playing a seedy con man, complicates their lives with blackmail and threats. There are a few twists at the end, and what you might expect to happen doesn't. Suspense 'til the very end.

In my opinion Burt and Joan make a pretty good onscreen couple. There's a fine train-car bonding scene which sort of reminded me of the one in Letter From An Unknown Woman. But instead of sitting across from each other, the lovers are sitting side by side.

Joan and Burt heat up the screen

Upon the film's initial release, the film critic from the New York Times wrote that Joan brings "restraint and intelligence" to her performance. 2 Mark from the blog Where Danger Lives wrote, "No actor of the classic noir period could project a sense of impending doom like Burt Lancaster, and no actress wore empathy on her face like Joan Fontaine." 3

By the time this film came out, Burt had already done several noirs: The Killers, Brute Force, Desert Fury, I Walk Alone, and Sorry Wrong Number, which opened just a few weeks before Kiss the Blood in the fall of 1948. Incidentally, Burt's next film was also a noir, 1949's Criss Cross. The blogs Randomanic and Scenes from the Morgue have great posts on the latter film for the 2011 For The Love of Film blogathon.

Directed by Norman Foster, who directed Journey Into Fear and most of the Mr. Motto films (Read about them here at Classic Movie Ramblings) Effective musical score composed by Miklos Rosza. Stylish cinematography by Russell Metty (The Stranger). Screenplay by Leonardo Bercovici (Portrait of Jennie)


1. The New York Times. Film review, "Lancaster Fights the World Again," October 30, 1948.
2. The Encyclopedia of Film Noir, 2007, G. Mayer, B. McDonnel, Page 251.
3. Where Danger Lives, "Kiss the Blood Off My Hands," published July 24, 2009.

  • Joan was pregnant with her daughter Debbie during filming.
  • The film was co-produced by Norma Productions, Burt Lancater's new production company.
  • Fontaine and Lancaster recreated their roles for the Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on February 21, 1949 under the title The Unafraid.

Fast-forward to the 1:16 mark:

This post has been submitted as an entry in the For the Love of Film (Noir) blogathon, hosted by Marilyn Ferdinand and The Self-Styled Siren

A PayPal account has been set up for the Blogathon through which you can donate to the Film Noir Foundation, an organization which helps restore classic films: Click here to donate.


Vanwall said...

I always said this is the best title, ever. And not just for noir. Great post, I love this this one!

Tom said...

Thanks Vanwall! The title really puts to shame some of the simplistic, ho-hum titles of modern thrillers like "The American" or "The Roomate".

KC said...

I always thought this title belonged with a much sleazier flick. Joan Fontaine and Burt Lancaster are too classy for a grindhouse name--hehe.

Tom said...

Good point, KC. It certainly raises eyebrows, even so many decades later. Sure enough, back then the Production Code initially rejected the title, but Burt's production company (Harold-Hecht Norma Productions) fought to keep the title of the original novel, and succeeded. When it was adapted for radio, the title was changed to "The Unafraid"; I'm sure that the radio announcers were relieved they didn't have to say the title over and over again.

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