In post-World War II England, a Canadian veteran (Burt Lancaster, Elmer Gantry) suffering from PTSD accidentally kills a man in a bar fight. The ex-soldier goes on the lam and gets some unexpected help from a lonely nurse (Joan Fontaine, Rebecca).
Reaction & Thoughts:
“The aftermath of war is rubble.”
Kiss the Blood Off My Hands… that’s what I call an attention-grabbing title! Unfortunately, the film doesn’t live up to its gripping title — the movie lacks originality and thrills. But Kiss the Blood Off My Hands is almost, I repeat, ALMOST redeemed by a trio of outstanding performances and a strong sense of place.
This was the first movie produced by the Hecht-Lancaster film company (originally called Norma Productions, named after Burt Lancaster’s second wife), which was founded by Lancaster and his agent Harold Hecht (producer James Hill joined them in the 1950s). Kiss the Blood Off My Hands isn’t one of the company’s best offerings.
While it does have a certain visual flair, the film is weighed down by a weak narrative. Based on Gerald Butler’s (not to be confused with the Scottish actor) 1940 novel of the same name, Kiss the Blood Off My Hands began shooting without a finished script (Leonardo Bercovici, The Bishop’s Wife, wrote new scenes as the movie was being shot) and perhaps this is why the film is a classic case of “style-over-substance.”
Director Norman Foster, who is mostly known for his fun B-movies, worked with Orson Welles on the 1943 thriller Journey into Fear, and it seems that some of Welles’s techniques rubbed on him. There are moments in the movie that will remind viewers of Welles’s The Stranger (1946) and The Lady from Shanghai (1947).
Russell Metty’s (Spartacus) dark and gloomy camerawork is excellent (interestingly, Metty shot Welles’s 1958 classic Touch of Evil). Miklós Rózsa’s (Spellbound) phantasmagorical music score is in sync with Metty’s moody cinematography. Another thing worth noting is the giant set built on the Universal Studios lot — the deliberately cramped sets perfectly embody the ruinous look of post-war Europe.
Kiss the Blood Off My Hands does look good, as for the plot, I have to admit that I’m biased against one of Hollywood’s weirdest clichés: the woman who falls in love with her captor. Would you fall for the stranger who breaks into your house in the middle of the night? Okay, we are talking about Lancaster, not Peter Lorre, but really?
This is precisely why the relationship between Lancaster and Joan Fontaine didn’t ring true to me, despite good performances by the actors. In any case, British actor Robert Newton (Disney’s Treasure Island), whose chronic alcoholism created endless problems for the producers, steals the film from his talented co-stars. Newton plays a deliciously nasty character who blackmails Lancaster into helping him pull off a heist.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
As disappointed as I was with Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, I can’t call it a complete failure. Though it lacks a strong narrative, I’m sure the film will be of great interest to both fans of doomed love stories and noir aficionados. For comparison purposes, I would recommend people watch Carol Reed’s excellent 1947 thriller Odd Man Out, which covers similar ground in a much more satisfying manner. B&W, 79 minutes, Not Rated.