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KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS (1948) blu-ray review

July 23, 2020

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written by: Leonardo Bercovici and Walter Bernstein (novel by Gerard Butler)
produced by: Richard Vernon
directed by: Norman Foster
rated: not rated
runtime: 79 min.
U.S. release date: October 30, 1948
Blu-ray release date: July 21, 2020

 

As one of the latest entries in the Kino Lorber Studio Classics line of Blu-ray releases, Norman Foster’s 1948 film noir, “Kiss the Blood off My Hands” gets a fine 2K restoration transfer and hopefully a wider audience. The Universal Pictures release was significant for its star Burt Lancaster, since it was the first film released by Norma Production, a company he founded with his agent Harold Hecht and James Hill, in an effort to break away from the heartthrob roles that would come his way. Here, Lancaster plays a psychologically tormented man (not too unheard of for the genre) who may or may not be able to shake off his past with the help of a kind hearted woman.

As the film opens, what is immediately striking is the stark black-and-white art production design that establishes the nighttime setting of post World War II London. The visuals, paired with the inviting score from veteran composer Miklós Rózsa, has our attention as the camera focuses on the interior of the Anchor & Dolphin, a waterfront tavern that will serve as the catalyst location for our antagonist’s journey. It’s closing time in the lively joint. Inebriated patrons are leaving, and just as the jocular piano player closes up he witnesses the sudden accidental murder of the owner and watches as the murderer flees into the dark streets.

 

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The killer is Bill Saunders (Lancaster), an unstable man filled with panic and violent tendencies, now on the run after an unfortunate outburst. In the impressively filmed, dialogue-free chase sequence lensed by Russell Metty (who won an Oscar for his work on “Spartacus”), in which Saunders is pursued by both civilians and bobbies through the maze-like streets and tight alleyways, a palpable intensity is created. Saunders eludes the police by climbing into the window of a sleeping Jane Wharton (Joan Fontaine), who is startled by her intruder, yet remains cool-as-a-cucumber even the following morning, which finds the exhausted Saunders awakening in her quaint flat. Wharton establishes that she is unfazed by Saunders and explains that she is off to work and won’t be home till the evening, expecting him to be gone by then, assuring him she has no plans to contact the authorities.

Obviously, the two will meet again and we will soon learn their future encounters will be instigated by Saunders, who is desperate to connect with Wharton. In desperation, Saunders steals money from a civilian and cleans himself up with a clean shave and a new suit, checking into a bed and breakfast without any plans except to keep a low profile. The first couple of times Saunders seeks out Wharton, he understandably comes across as a creepy predator and Wharton makes it known she wants nothing to do with him.

However, being a nurse at a local clinic, there is an indication that Wharton is able to identify that there is something damaged about Saunders that haunts him, and eventually it is her empathy which opens a connection between the two that gradually leads to love. Gradually is the key word here. While Saunders initially forces his way into Wharton’s life, their connection slowly realizes and as it certain aspects of Saunders past (such as how he was an imprisoned POW for a couple years) gives Wharton and viewers an understanding for his potential volatile tendencies. Despite that, she is able to land him a job as a driver for the clinic, transporting medical supplies to those in need, giving the broken man a newfound purpose.

Since the story opens with Lancaster’s Saunders committing an unintentional murder, the story will no doubt follow the familiar “man who cannot escape his past” storyline, and that element has to rear its inevitable head. That occurs in the form of that jocular piano player, who continues to rear his head in a more prominent role as the film’s antagonist as it’s revealed he’s actually a scheming Cockney named Harry Carter (Robert Newton), who is holding his knowledge of Saunder’s recent past over his head. Thanks to Newton’s smooth and slimey portrayal, Carter wedges his way into Saunders attempt at a new chance at life, manipulating our protagonist into a criminal deal which will land them money and a promise to offer a future for Saunders and Wharton.

 

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The film benefits from standout production design by Bernard Herzbrun and Nathan Juran, a pair of art directing collaborators who had worked on many other noir films before and after “Kiss the Blood”. It may have been primarily shot on a Universal backlot (except for a great sequence at Griffith Park Zoo posing for a zoo in London), but the overall look of the film with its predominately darkly lit shots and a variety of camera work (high and low shots, along with some crafty crane work), really adds to this underlying claustrophobic feel that the film builds on as the past of Lancaster’s Bill Saunders seems to loom around every corner.

As far as chemistry between the two leads goes, it’s not necessarily there, but that’s okay considering here are two characters who probably aren’t right for each other. It may be somewhat hard to believe Fontaine when her character professes her love to Lancaster’s shell-shocked protagonist, but it serves as a reminder that sometimes two people come together out of dire need and needful circumstances, but that doesn’t mean that the future wouldn’t be without its problems for the pair. In fact, the film ends with the couple in something of rock and a hard place situation with the swelling music hopeful for a happy ending, but viewers should know better.

Regardless of how they match up, Lancaster and Fontaine are great here, probably because they (and their characters) are so different and therein lies the intrigue as we wonder what the actors are going to do in these roles while the story unfolds. Metty and Foster stylishly shoot the actors in a way that accentuates their screen presence while allowing the actors to work certain nuances in an authentic manner.

Watching “Kiss the Blood of My Hands” for the first time definitely made me want to hunt down some of the other films Norma Productions made from 1948 and 1962. While I have seen some (“Run Silent, Run Deep”, “Marty” and “Birdman of Alcatraz”), there are definitely others I’d like to catch up with. Along with the crisp and sharp new transfer, Kino’s Blu-ray release has a trailer for the movie (which feels like it’s marketed as another movie) and other noir trailers, as well as a knowledgeable, informative and entertaining commentary by film critic Jeremy Arnold.

 

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RATING: ***

 

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