In this film noir drama, Bill Saunders (Burt Lancaster) is a former Prisoner of War living in England whose experiences have left him emotionally unstable and prone to violence. One night, while drinking in a pub, he gets into an argument with the owner which quickly escalates into a brutal fist fight; Bill kills the publican and flees with the police giving chase. Bill is given shelter by Jane Wharton (Joan Fontaine), a kind-hearted nurse who believes Bill when he tells her that the killing was an accident and that he's innocent of any wrongdoing. Bill soon gets in a fight with a policeman and ends up in jail, but Jane, who has fallen in love with Bill, still has faith in him, and upon his release she finds him a job driving a truck delivering drugs for the clinic where she works. Career criminal Harry Carter (Robert Newton), who witnessed Bill's murder of the pub owner, now sees a perfect opportunity for blackmail, and he forces Bill to tip him off for his next major drug shipment, which can then be routed to the black market at a high profit. Bill has little choice but to agree, but when Jane ends up tagging along when Bill is to make the delivery in question, he refuses to jeopardize her and makes the delivery to the clinic without incident. This quickly earns Harry's wrath, and they soon find themselves at the mercy of a very dangerous man. Miklos Rozsa composed the film's highly effective score.
New York Times Review Of October 30, 1948,what was said of Burt Lancaster's ability as an actor,how wrong they were.
Kiss the Blood off My Hands (1948)
October 30, 1948
Lancaster Fights the World Again
Published: October 30, 1948
The process of humanizing Burt Lancaster obviously is not going to be easy and it is going to take time. Mr. Lancaster is handy with his fists and speaks most eloquently when using them. But to develop fully as an actor and to come over to the right side of society he will have to make a break someday, for there are only so many variations on the theme of being misunderstood and Mr. Lancaster has just about exhausted them all.
In Kiss the Blood Off My Hands," which opened yesterday at oew's Criterion. Mr. Lancaster is again fighting an uphill battle against society and "forces" which pressure him into a mood of sullen belligerency. Notwithstanding its gruesome title, "Kiss the Blood Off My Hands" is not a lurid crime picture. It is, rather, a thoughtful, sombre drama of an ill-starred couple and their plaintive struggle for happiness. It is a conventional drama, but a surprisingly interesting one that builds steadily toward a third-act climax (something few films do these days).
Leonardo Bercovici has written an orderly screen play, though his central character is not sharply defined. Bill Saunders, a formel soldier who developed a violent aversion to taking orders after spending two years in a Nazi prison camp, appears to be more of a born misfit than a man warped by circumstances. Quick-tempered and pugnacious he accidently kills a man. In a frantic effort to elude the police he breaks into the apartment of Jane Wharton, wins her sympathy and convinces her of his innocence. This is put to a strong test when he gets into subsequent trouble and is sentenced to six months in jail, but by now love has conquered reason.
Were it not for the restraint and intelligence that Joan Fontainc brings to the role of Jane Wharton the drama no doubt would come apart at the seams. For one cares more about what is likely to happen to Jane Wharton as she undertakes the reformation of Saunders in a fruitless bid for happiness and perforce of circumstance, entirely believable in this instance, becomes involved in murder herself. Saving this tragic development until the film's final moments, the story reaches a forceful climax, for it leaves to one's imagination the future of this unfortunate couple as they prepare to make an accounting to society.
Norman Foster has directed "Kiss the Blood Off My Hands" with keen appreciation for the story's emotional content and he has handled the scenes of violence with striking sharpness. The long chase that starts the film on its way, with Lancaster desperately racing through winding streets and alleyways of the London waterfront, vaulting fences and scrambling1 up on roofs, is high-tension excitement. Mr. Lancaster's performance is good, but he would do well to drop some of his tenseness and get more flexibility into his acting. Robert Newton, as a cockney schemer who witnessed the killing and attempts to blackmail Saunders, is somewhat flamboyant but still he gets over an effective characterization.
"Kiss the Blood Off My Hands" represents a good beginning for the new producing firm of Harold Hecht-Norma (Mr. Lancaster) Productions.
KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS, based on the novel by Gerald Butler; screen play by Leonardo Bercovici with additional dialogue by Hugh Gray; adaptation by Ben Maddow and Walter Bernstein; directed by Norman Foster; produced by Richard Vernen; a Harold Hecht-Norma Production; presented by Universal-International.
Jane Wharton . . . . . Joan Fontaine
Bill Saunders . . . . . Burt Lancaster
Harry Carter . . . . . Robert Newton
Tom Widgery . . . . . Lewis L. Russell
Landlady . . . . . Aminta Dyne
Mrs. Paton . . . . . Grizelda Harvey
Sea Captain . . . . . Jay Novello
Judge . . . . . Colin Keith-Johnston
Superintendent . . . . . Reginald Sheffield
Publican . . . . . Campbell Copelin
Tipster . . . . . Leland Hedgson
Young Father . . . . . Peter Hobbes