22 January 2002 | bmacv
Lancaster, Fontaine noir doesn't quite live up to lurid title
Film noir tended to flaunt provocative titles, but few of them have set sail under a banner so arresting as Kiss The Blood Off My Hands. Parsed down, this translates simply as Redemption Through Love. Hot-tempered American seaman Burt Lancaster jumps ship in London and kills a man in a pub brawl. Chased through the labyrinthine byways of the postwar city, he climbs into Joan Fontaine's life. A spark ignites, but, terrified by his rages, she leaves him -- to a spell in prison for robbery and assault as well as a graphic lashing with a cat-o'-nine-tails.
Six months later they meet again. Fontaine finds him a job as a lorry driver for the clinic where she works as a nurse. But a slithery Cockney (Robert Newton), witness to the unsolved pub killing, blackmails him into to helping to hijack his cargo of penicillin, worth a fortune on the black market. Fontaine's unexpected presence throws a monkey wrench into the scheme, and Newton decides to use her as his instrument of revenge. But it turns out that she, too, can lash out when cornered....
In its setting more congenial to Sherlock Holmes than to Philip Marlowe, Kiss The Blood Off My Hands lacks something in the way of snap and sass, though its fog-bound nightscapes spook up the story. More romantic and, ultimately, upbeat than its transatlantic cousins, the movie upholds its noir pedigree by abandoning its protagonists to desperate circumstances. But it's a pity that Fontaine is kept such a saintly helpmate; in Ivy and Born to Be Bad, she showed her dark side, too.