Out of the Celluloid Closet

If you like watching hot men get flogged, this classic noir is for you

If you’re a lover of classic cinema, you’ve probably noticed something strange and not altogether unpleasant about a certain brand of Hollywood fare from the 1940s and 50s. You can be watching a completely normal noir or action film or even a Western when suddenly you’re faced with the shocking sight of a hot man getting stripped to waist and brutally flogged. Why is this happening? It doesn’t really matter: suffice it to say that Hollywood (and the British film industry) was finding ways to introduce a flogging scene even to the detriment of plot and logic. And no one, absolutely no one, was complaining about it.

Take, for instance, the little-seen noir Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, now streaming on Criterion Channel as part of their Gothic Noir series. It’s a totally normal movie about how Burt Lancaster—a Canadian POW living in post-war England—is an unhinged mess of a person trying to recover from the horrible things he saw in the war. Then suddenly Burt Lancaster kills someone by accident! Thankfully Joan Fontaine is there to shield him from the long arm of the law—until it happens again! Burt Lancaster kills a policeman, and this time the gloves come off. Because it’s the British legal system—and who the hell knows how that works—he’s sentenced to six months hard labor and “18 strokes of the cat o’nine tails.” I know what you’re thinking—that’s a very specific number! And you’re right. Why 18? Why the cat o’nine tails? I don’t know and I can’t tell you—all I know is that the scene that follows gives us a shirtless and impossibly ripped Burt Lancaster getting strapped to some device and receiving every last one of those lashes. With six men looking on sternly. Do all those men need to be there? No. But here they are, whipping Burt Lancaster with a completely straight face.

Does it have anything to do with the rest of the plot? No! Does it serve as believable padding in a movie that’s scarcely 80 minutes long? Not really! But do we love to see it? Of course we do. And is it hot? Of course it is.

The good news is that Burt gets out of prison, and doesn’t have to face the cat o’nine tails ever again, but if you’re anything like me and the many homosexual viewers of this film, this is the scene you’re bound to remember. It’s pretty hard to forget.

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