‘Kiss the Blood off My Hands’ – Burt Lancaster in London on Criterion Channel

The shadow of the war hangs over Kiss the Blood off My Hands (1948), an American film noir set in London starring Burt Lancaster as a brooding American ex-G.I. Bill has a chip on his shoulder and a hair-trigger temper, which explodes just seconds after the credits end. One reflexive punch and bad fall and he’s wanted for murder, running through the rain-slicked cobblestone streets and ducking into bombed-out ruins leftover from the blitz.

Joan Fontaine gets top billing as Jane, the American nurse who senses the damaged soul under the swagger and emotional scar tissue. He was a POW in the war and the film all but diagnoses our anti-hero with PTSD even as it offers up hope that he can control it under Jane’s tender influence. Trouble intervenes when a mercenary bystander (Robert Newton) who witnessed the bar killing blackmails him into robbery scheme.

The film isn’t a lurid as the title suggests but there are moments worthy of it: the ease with which Bill resorts to mugging a civilian for quick cash, zoo animals screaming and lashing out at their cages while Bill flees in panic, the dead-eyed stare of a corpse as a goldfish flops in death throes next to the body. When Bill is convicted for an unrelated assault, his sentence involves a brutal whipping and Lancaster, true to form, grits his teeth and endures it: just another trial to survive.

Director Norman Foster and cinematographer Russell Metty offer up an unusually dark portrait of post-war life both visually—night dominates Bill’s life—and thematically. Being a Hollywood film, there’s hope at the end the long, dark night of the soul, but the forced optimism of the final shots can’t completely dispel the darkness of this journey through the shadows of post-war London.

Black and white

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Kiss the Blood Off My Hands [Blu-ray]
Kiss the Blood Off My Hands [DVD]

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The Blu-ray from Kino features commentary by film historian Jeremy Arnold.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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