Friday, October 20, 2017

THE JOAN FONTAINE CENTENARY BLOGATHON: Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948)



Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Virginie of The Wonderful World of Cinema are co-hosting The Joan Fontaine Centenary Blogathon running October 20th to 22nd. Click on either site to access contributions to the blogathon.


Burt Lancaster

Does one rash act define a life or does a harsh life lived lead to a blur of wrong choices? Bill Saunders (Burt Lancaster) is a lonely, rage-filled man in post WW2 London. The rootless Canadian veteran of a German POW Camp is set off by a simple "Time, gentlemen, please". A sock to the jaw of a barman and the unfortunate meeting of skull on furniture results in murder and desperation as Bill runs into the night.


Burt Lancaster, Robert Newton

The incident brings two people into Bill's life whose influence will be overwhelming for good and for ill. Harry Carter (Robert Newton) is a small time hood with grand ideas. A witness to Bill's impetuosity, Harry uses his knowledge of the accidental murder to blackmail Bill into future co-operation for any criminal activity deemed advisable.


Joan Fontaine

Hiding from the police that fateful night brings Bill into the modest bedsit of Jane Wharton (Joan Fontaine). Jane is also a deeply lonely human with the loss of her fiance during the war. Lloyd was in the RAF; one of the brave few to whom so much was owed as immortalized by Churchill. Jane's life is quiet and one of comparative solitude, but not one of desperation such as Bill experiences. Jane is respected and well-liked in her profession as a nurse at a clinic where she enjoys the life-affirming feeling of being useful. Jane is basically kind, and that may be the motive behind her allowing Bill to go free when she could have turned him in to the authorities.


Burt Lancaster, Joan Fontaine

Jane's instinct to keep away from the volatile Bill gives way to his need to be with this compassionate young woman. An innocent and fun outing to the racetrack will end with Bill's inability to curb his violent tendencies and the fateful consequence of a jail term and a brutal lashing. Upon his return to society, Harry and Jane pull Bill in two very different directions.


Burt Lancaster, Joan Fontaine

While Harry reminds Bill of his criminal obligations, Jane gets Bill a job as the clinic's lorry driver. (Note: there is a disconcerting film error in that the driver's side of the vehicle is on the wrong side for England.) Through his work, Bill now knows that feeling of being useful and liked, and his relationship with Jane grows into love. Their love and their very lives are threatened by Harry's black market plans for the clinic's medical supplies.


Joan Fontaine, Burt Lancaster

The couple are dogged on all sides by the relentless Harry, and Bill's lifetime of troubles and rash acts. There is a destiny in the dark city and even darker society that makes of their love a desperate thing. To run or to stay are the choices for Bill and Jane, and here is the conundrum. Spoiler ahead.

The film's ending has the couple staying to face the consequences. On one hand, it is the most pragmatic solution, yet the character of Bill is almost offhandedly hopeful that he and Jane may yet have their heart's desire. Perhaps that hopefulness is only something I read into the scene, and not intended by the filmmakers. Nonetheless, the ending felt unsatisfactory in execution.

Kiss the Blood of My Hands was produced by Harold Hecht, who promoted young Broadway actor Burt Lancaster in his Hollywood career. Hecht-Lancaster Productions would be formed in the early 1950s and their collaborations include Sweet Smell of Success, Run Silent Run Deep, and Marty.


Bill at a crossroads in our story.

The source novel by Gerald Butler was published in 1940 and was a popular success with its lonely and alienated character. The screen play is by Leonardo Bercovici (The Bishop's Wife, Portrait of Jennie). Cinematographer Russell Metty tapped into his moody side creating a pervasively dark atmosphere to rival that of Touch of Evil. Miklos Rozsa's score is appropriately chilling and melodramatic. Director Norman Foster (Woman on the Run, Rachel and the Stranger) shows a lovely touch for the emotionalism inherit in this story where the plea of the title comes to define both Bill and Jane.


Jane - reflected and reflecting.

Joan Fontaine is lovely as our heroine Jane, timidly, yet bravely reaching out for love in a lonely and cruel world. This period in Joan's film career is filled with interesting and diverse films and roles. Along with our film-noir, she gave us the masterful performance in Letter from an Unknown Woman, the scheming murderess in Ivy, the humorous love story of the out-of-date Countess in The Emperor's Waltz, leading to the glorious romance of September Affair and the notorious Christabel of Born to Be Bad. Joan Fontaine was an actress to be reckoned with, and an actress to remember and admire.












12 comments:

  1. "Joan Fontaine was an actress to be reckoned with, and an actress to remember and admire." Oh yes! That was a fantastic review Patricia! I finally saw the film not a too long time ago (I love both Joan and Burt) and, although it's not Joan's best film, it remains a very interesting and enjoyable one. Thanks so much for your participation to the blogathon!

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    1. My pleasure, Virginie. It is a movie whose reach exceeds its grasp, but that doesn't make any less interesting. Perhaps it makes it more.

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  2. Definitely one of Jane's best roles from this period in her career. It's not shown nearly as often as her other films, which I have always found rather puzzling given everyone involved.

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    1. True. It's one of those movies that fell through the cracks somehow and there is a lot to recommend it. I expect it to show up on Noir Alley one of these days.

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  3. This sounds like a little gem! Thanks for putting me onto the scent.

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  4. I've been hoping to see this film for a while now, mainly because of its fabulously over-the-top title and the teaming of Joan and Burt. After reading your excellent review, I'm even more determined to see it. (TCM, you better be listening!)

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    1. I've my fingers crossed for a TCM screening. Specifically on a Sunday morning!

      Thanks for stopping by and reading. Indeed, that is quite the title.

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  5. Loved reading this review of a film I've - somehow - never seen. I always liked Burt Lancaster - what a splendid screen presence. He had one of those faces that was just made for movies. I also always liked Joan Fontaine especially in, of course, REBECCA and SUSPICION. And I loved her playing against type with Bob Hope in CASENOVA'S NIGHT OUT (still one of my very favorite film comedies) But after reading your list of her movies I realize I'd never seen much of her work. Shame on me.

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    1. Yvette, that's the grand thing about our classic movies in that we always have something new to discover. You are so right about Burt Lancaster and his face made for the movies.

      I haven't seen Casanova's Night Out in ages. There's something about approaching the end of the year that makes me love watching old Bob Hope flicks. He always makes me laugh.

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  6. There are only a few Bob Hope movies I love, but those I LOVE devotedly. :) I misspelled Casanova, sorry about that. But what a funny movie that is with Basil Rathbone as the slightly bad guy and Raymond Burr as a Venetian tough guy and the evil doge of Venice played by someone I can't remember but he was a perfect hambone in the part. Hilarious. 'Farfel, farfel, pipick.'Ha!

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    1. Oh my gosh, Arnold Moss as the doge. Such a seriously good bad guy, and so funny in this movie. I wish it would show up on TCM, then our "cult" of two could get bigger.

      PS: I didn't think you spelled Casanova wrong, I assumed it was an errant keyboard. Mine fights with me all the time.

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