Friday, February 17, 2023

Noir Watch: Kiss The Blood Off My Hands (1948)

Watched:  02/15/2023
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  First
Director:  Norman Foster

Boy, they really used to know how to name a movie, didn't they?  

Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948) is post-war noir, filmed in Hollywood doing it's darndest to look like post-War London, and populated by British ex-pats and Burt Lancaster.  You get Joan Fontaine!  How can that be wrong?

This film is the darkest of noir, and an interesting example of the movement.  Normally I think of noir as including either a person who is in a morally corrupt world because of their choice of job as a detective, but much more often as a person who is corrupted by a compulsion (here's where you get your femme fatales leading morally shaky fellows astray) and their world turns upside down.  But this movie has a flawed protagonist who is also the victim of what we'd now call PTSD - a veteran of the war who saw no point in going back to the U.S. and is adrift in London.  

Drunk in a bar, he's being shown the door by the barkeep when he accidentally (being burly Lancaster) knocks the man over and he dies in the fall.  He runs, cops on his heels, and escapes into an open second-story window where Joan Fontaine is snoozing.  He more or less holds her captive til morning, but she doesn't squeal on him.  She's lonely and adrift herself in the wake of the war, her husband killed.  

A schemer who saw Lancaster kill the barkeep attempts to recruit and then blackmail him.  It's... dark.  And as Lancaster tries to get his feet under him and make things make sense with Fontaine (knowing he's just going to make things worse) - it just keeps getting darker.

The film is beautifully shot by Russell Metty, who makes the most of converted street sets and night time shoots.  He makes great use of the multiple levels of streets, apartments, stairs, etc... and manages to make a backlot set look (mostly) natural and buyable - a tucked away neighborhood somewhere in London.  Much could be made out of elevation in the film, and his use of shadow.

I don't need to remark on Fontaine and Lancaster - both know their jobs and are fantastic.


he ending is... weird. And weirdly unsatisfactory. Fontaine is being set up to be blackmailed by Harry, the villain of the piece, when he attempts to rape her. Fontaine gets him with a pair of scissors. For some reason - this is treated as a crime by both the character and the film. It makes no sense. Unless there's something I don't know about self-defense and 1948. Which is entirely possible - but from a logistics and ethics standpoint, it seems cut and dried. A story could have easily been concocted to set the characters free now that the one witness to Lancaster's manslaughter charge is gone (and the cops aren't looking for him).

So why are they trying to run?  And why do they go back to turn themselves in?  It seems out of character for both as they both seemed... fine?  Like, I get it.  Tell the cops, clear things up.  Including the manslaughter charge, I guess?  I would personally want to take responsibility - but it just seems like a weird, last second turn to the side of the angels that seems out of step with everything else, even when Fontaine finds out why the cops were really after Lancaster.  Like... just break up.

I still like the film, and a rewatch may clear all that up for me.  Mostly I do like the idea that a heel like Lancaster can genuinely try to be a better person for a Fontaine, but I'm not sure I like how they connected those dots in the final reel.  It feels a little Breen Office.

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