Don`t Bother to Knock (1952)

 

Year: 1952

Director: Roy Ward Baker

Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Richard Widmark, Anne Bancroft, Elisha Cook Jr.

Much like The Set-Up, a movie from 3 years earlier, Don’t Bother to Knock attempts to tell a story in real time or at least near real time.  This is a stylistic choice that was rarely made in films of this era, in fact it has rarely been attempted in the entire history of film.  A few examples come to mind, such as the television show 24, starring Kiefer Sutherland, and the 2003 film Phone Booth as well as 88 minutes with Al Pacino.  Rope (1948), which was Directed by Alfred Hitchcock also employed an attempt at this near real time approach.

Much like Rope, Don’t Bother to Knock begins to feel somewhat claustrophobic.  The fact that it all takes place in the same location, a hotel in New York, also adds to the claustrophobic feel.  These choices serve the story, for Marilyn Monroe’s character is not entirely stable, in fact, she has spent some time in a mental institution.  Those three years in the institution supposedly did a lot of good for her, but the one night she spends in this hotel might do just as much bad for her.  It is as if her isolation in one location unravels the positive results of her isolation in another location.

Besides the ambitious efforts to tell this story in real time and in one location, the other most impressive aspect of this film has got to be Marilyn Monroe and her performance.  Here we see her in the first few years of her film career, with a whole decade of film roles ahead of her, and already we can see that she is more than just a pretty face and a set of seductive curves, but an impressive actor as well.  She is an actress who much like other early well known method actors, such as Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger, used method acting to great success.  Don’t Bother to Knock is arguably one of her greatest successes as an actress, and ironically came fairly early in her career, much before a lot of criticism arose.  After watching a movie like Don’t Bother to Knock, it is ironic that her talents were often questioned by critics of the time and the present.  Her performance is clearly the best thing this film has going for it.

The story is about a young woman, who is haunted by a melancholy and apparently sadly repressive past.  Part of what is engaging about this film is trying to not only figure out exactly what in her past might have caused her mental and emotional damage, but also whether or not the supposed clues to that past point in the direction one might assume when watching the film.  Viewing Don’t Bother to Knock certainly leads one to want to read the source material, a novel by Charlotte Armstrong entitled Mischief.  A movie such as Don’t Bother to Knock must have pushed the censorship guidelines of the time for film.  Surely, the source material must contain some juicy details that would fill out the story.  That, coincidentally, is another connection to the movie Rope, which makes no mention of homosexuality, but is often talked about now as a movie that discusses the subject, which was certainly taboo at the time.

What exactly happened to Marilyn Monroe’s Nell Forbes?  What demons are in her past?  What exactly is the nature of her relationship with her uncle (played quite well by talented actor Elisha Cook Jr., who interestingly had no children, but did spend some time raising a niece)?  What will happen next to Nell?  These questions are basically unanswered, leaving much to the imagination of the viewer, serving as sort of a psychological analysis of the viewer, and an exercise in dissecting dialogue and hunting for subtext.

Despite all the unanswered questions, one thing is clear however, Marilyn Monroe could definitely act.

 

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Year: 1948

Director: Jean Negulesco

Cast: Ida Lupino, Richard Widmark, Cornel Wilde, Celeste Holm

Katie recently said that she was at a Borders trying to find Richard Widmark dvds. She mentioned Road House but I believe she opted for another choice. That was a mistake. This twisted film noir love triangle is excellent. Widmark plays a sociopath for the last time and he really goes all out. I don’t ever remember Lupino being this sexy before but she was a film noir staple indeed.

Jefty (Widmark) is the owner of a combination nightclub/bowling alley in a Midwestern rural town somewhere just south of the Canadian border. His best friend Pete — played by Cornel Wilde — is the manager. Friends since childhood, the boys did a tour in WWII together and when they returned, Jefty inherited the watering hole from his father. Pete has always been grateful for the job Widmark’s character gave him. One night Jefty returns from Chicago with a new performer named Lily Stevens (Lupino). Pete’s initial encounter w/ Lily is less than auspicious as he sees her in his office making herself at home in his chair like she owns the place. Any hope the manager has of being rid of her is dashed the first time the torch singer performs. She is a big hit and Jefty can’t keep all the customers away.

Everything Lily does gets under Pete’s skin. She leaves lit cigarettes everywhere, dresses too provocatively, and Lily has a superior attitude. For his part, Jefty seems to be clueless and insists that his two favorite people spend time together. The first time we see an inkling that the proprietor might be off his nut is when he adamantly demands that the manager give his new star bowling lessons. One of the supporting characters that resents the presence of Lily is Susie — played by Celeste Holm. She’s the cashier @ the Road House and she’s had an unrequited crush on Pete forever. As the picture progresses, it’s obvious to her that Pete and Lily are falling in love, even if they don’t realize it.

When Jefty returns from a hunting trip, he brags to his friend that he plans to marry Lily. All the quality time spent with the singer has evolved into a romance for Cornel’s character and he contradicts Jefty, claiming that he will be the one to marry her. Jefty’s love for his friend turns into bitter vitriol at the betrayal and he threatens repercussions. Widmark’s character sets up Pete for grand theft and our hero is found guilty. For whatever reason, the judge agrees to release Pete into Jefty’s custody for a probationary period. It becomes apparent to the viewer just how far gone the nightclub owner is when he forces Lily, Pete, and Susie to join him at his cabin in Canada for a holiday. Nothing good can come of this.

One of the things that struck me is how thankless Holm’s part is. She plays a heroic role in the ending but you’d expect someone who had just won an Oscar to get juicier opportunities than Susie. Negulesco does some fantastic things with Lily. I already mentioned the cigarettes which leave burn marks all over the piano like battle scars. He also has some fantastic costume ideas for her as well. She shows up for bowling in one of the most inappropriate, skimpy outfits I’ve ever seen. When Susie, Lily, and Pete have a picnic at the lake, the singer shows up without a bathing suit. Not to worry. One minute behind a bush and she emerges with one she fashioned out of scarves.

Probably my favorite aspect of this disc is the fabulous commentary given by Eddie Muller and Kim Morgan. Muller is one of the best film noir experts in the business and Morgan is a film historian who really knows her stuff. The commentary was recorded the week of Widmark’s death so that just adds to the reverence they have for the great actor. Muller’s fondness for Lupino knows no bounds and the two really do a good job of fleshing out all the actors backgrounds. At one point in celebration of Widmark the performer, Muller whips out a hip flask and he and Morgan drink a toast. Pretty cool. See Road House for the deliciousness of Lupino and the zaniness of a legendary actor. It’s a great film noir experience.

By James White

Year: 1948
Director: William Keighley
Cast: Richard Widmark, Mark Stevens, Lloyd Nolan, Barbara Lawrence, Ed Begley

If you’ve taken a look at my other blog ( thoughtfulthinkingthoughts.wordpress.com ) you might know that, of late, I’ve been on a big “I must own every Richard Widmark movie I can get my hands on” kick. It started with just wanting Night and the City and Don’t Bother to Knock. Nowhere I went had them. So, naturally, this led to me buying every single movie they had at Borders. That’s what we call lack of self control, folks. One of those movies was the 1948 noir The Street With No Name, which is a sort of documdrama, supposedyl ripped from real FBI files (I say supposedly because I’m far too lazy to look to see if what they said at the beginning of the movie is true). It definitely has that feel of a The Naked City, only perhaps more movie-y.

Agent Gene Cordell (Stevenes) is recruited to go undercover to help solve some murders and robberies and whatnot. He takes the identity of Gene Manly, and goes to work for crime boss Alec Stiles (Widmark). It doesn’t take too much work to find incriminating evidence against Stiles, but the boss has people in high places that put a wrench in the plans of the FBI, and puts Cordell’s life in danger.

The Street With No Name was made the year after Widmark’s star making role in Kiss of Death, so he was sort of type cast as the bad guy. His performance here isn’t nearly as evil nor as maniacal (no pushing crippled old ladies down the stairs in this one), but he still plays a damn good villain. I love Richard Widmark anyway I can get him, be that villain, hero, anti-hero. But he really does something special with his villains. He was one of the few actors who wasn’t really afraid of alienating the audience or being disliked, which really gave him the power to create some really destestable villains. But he also makes them so electrifying, especially against the somewhat dull good guys, that you’re almost rooting for him.

Mark Stevens is sold in his role. This isn’t a particularly demanding hero role. He’s not a conflicted hero, he doesn’t get taken in by the glamor of the life of crimes. He’s just a good guy doing his job well, and Stevens sells that well enough. The relative dullness of the role really isn’t his fault. It’s just not an excitingly written role.

This is a very straightforward film, made without much flair, probably intentionally so. With professional sounding narration, they really seemed to be going for a non-film, documentary feeling and they succeed. The movie may have been a little more interesting if it had been made as straight up, stylish noir. But as it is, it’s just an interesting story presented in a simple way. Viewed in today’s context, the narration definitely feels a little corny.

I have to admire the movie a bit for really sticking to that docu-drama idea and not throwing a romance in for the sake of it. Agent Cordell is getting no love here. The movie is all about the story of the crime, with no room for romantic frills. The only woman in the cast is Barbara Lawrence, playing Stiles’ abused-yet-still-brassy wife. It’s a role that has little point except to show what an asshole Stiles really is, but Lawrence plays the role well, garnering sympathy for a character that’s not particularly likable.

Overall, this is definitely an excellent film to watch if you’re a Widmark fan. It really showcases his talent, and he’s definitely the best thing about the movie. And if you like these docu-dramas, this is one of the best.

By Katie Richardson

It’s been a really tough year on Hollywood. We’ve lost many, many people who were so important to the film industry. So many that I couldn’t possibly write about them all here. From the legends like Arthur C. Clarke and Jules Dassin, to the young ones who still had their best years ahead of them, like Heath Ledger and Brad Renfro. Some stars, like Evelyn Keyes, were quite old, so while their deaths hurt, the weren’t surprising. But some, like Sidney Pollack, Anthony Minghella, George Carlin and Michael Crichton, took me completely off guard.

Like I said, there’s no way I can write something up for everyone. Here are the ones whose careers meant the most to me, whose deaths effected me the most.

First foremost, the great Richard Widmark. Certainly one of the most underrated actors of all time, and one of my absolute favorites. He was 93 years old, and just days before his death I had mentioned in a thread on Rotten Tomatoes that he was still alive an kicking. Handsom in a troubled and smoldering way, Widmark was the face of cynical, jaded Americans in a post-WWII, cold-war era country. His villains were vicious and frightening, unparralleled in their ferociousness. Even his heroes were conflicted, complicated, and cynical.

In Kiss of Death he created a giggling, sociopathic maniac, and earned his sole Academy Award nomination for it. One of Widmark’s greatest strengths was that he wasn’t afraid of being disliked by the audience. That gave him the freedom to create a truly snarling, terrifying character. I don’t think any other actor could have tied a woman to a chair and thrown her down the stairs as convincingly as Widmark.

In Pickup on South Street he played one of his most morally ambiguous characters. He was some sort of hero, but his first obligation was to himself. No other actor could have pulled off that combination of moral ambiguity and conflict.  Widmark was truly one of a kind. His filmography is really just a string of excellent, diverse movies. Night and the City, Judgement at Nuremburg, The Law and Jake Wade, No Way Out, Panic In the Streets, Murder on the Orient Express.

The death of actress Anita Page hit me pretty hard. She was 98 years old, and I was really hoping she’d make it to 100. She was the last known person living who attended the first Academy Awards Ceremony in 1929, and one of the few silent film actors to live into the 21st century.

Anita Page’s initial career was fairly short, and it seemed like she stopped making films just as her celebrity was on the rise. Though she was in mostly supporting roles, in 1930 she was the most photographed actress in Hollywood (yes, even moreso than Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer). Page’s sweet face made her perfectly suited for the good girl, sweet heart roles. And she was great at playing a broken heart, because that was a face that truly hurt you to see sad. She perfected this kind of role in films like Our Blushing Brides, playing the sweet best friend to Joan Crawford, who falls in love with a rich man and allows herself to be kept by him, only to find out he has no intention of marrying her.

She was Buster Keaton’s leading lady in two of his sound films, Free and Easy and Sidewalks of New York. Initially, it seems like an odd pairing, but Page’s genuine vibrancy gave Keaton’s stone faced, comically morose performances the perfect light and balance.

As sweet as she usually was, the were a few times where she excelled at playing the bad girl. She was a downright bitch in Our Dancing Daughter. She used her angelic face to be deceptive and sneaky. Her character in Skyscraper Souls wasn’t quite as bad and evil, but she gave a really fantastic performance (one of the best in the movie) as the charismatic and slightly slutty best pal to Maureen O’Sullivan.

Cyd Charisse was one of my favorite dancers, and one of my favorite Astaire partners. She was extremely gorgeous, talented, and had tremendous screen presense. Even in films like Singin’ In the Rain, where she didn’t have a speaking role and only dance, she completely electrified the screen

Her most famous films are those made with Astaire and Gene Kelly. The Band Wagon is one of the all time great musicals, and one of the best films about show business. She and Astaire had amazing chemistry and just fit so well when they danced. The Girl Hunt Ballet is an incredible number, with Charisse giving the film a huge amount of sex appeal. Silk Stockings, another pairing with Astaire and a remake of Ninotchka, is also a lovely film.

As evidenced in Singin’ In the Rain, she also had wonderful chemistry with Gene Kelly when they danced. Brigadoon isn’t a particularly great film, but Charisse gave it so much class. It’s Always Fair Weather is a better effort from them.

She even proved that she had acting chops outside of dancing. She was an extremely beautiful woman, which made her perfect for films like Party Girl, a noir in which she gave a smoldering, sexy performance opposite Robert Taylor.

And then, of course, there’s Paul Newman. I wrote an article for the site after his death, and there’s really not much more I can say than that. He was more than just one of tehfinest actors ever. He was also a truly good human being, with a generous soul. His contributions to both film and humanity will be greatly missed. With his passing, the earth is a little more empty, and heaven is a little bit cooler.

By Katie Richardson