Cineram: Don’t Bother To Knock

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

Don’t Bother To Knock

By Mike Derderian

Sometimes I think people should wear a sign that reads, “don’t bother to knock,” whenever they are not in the mood to talk.

The other day I took a cab, while feeling rather low and not very conversational. Immortality, death, parents, the person I love, Star Wars, The Divine Comedy, Armenia, Palestine, Iraq and the Arab world, are all things that were floating around in my short-wired mind. Above it all, you have to think about the paycheck you get and if it will suffice for the coming month. From time to time, I think I am an elephant because I never heard of a writer that loves peanuts—but then again you can always make it into butter and spread it on a piece of bread with marmalade.

The cab driver, probably a self-taught psychiatrist, believed that I was about to commit suicide. A witty driver would have simply guessed that I was not in the mood to talk, but did he ever stop jabbering about happiness? No, he kept on going, going and going like that bloody Energizer Bunny.

It was Sunday and all I wanted was a quiet drive to my newspaper, during which I could formulate in my mind how I was going to write about Ridley Scott’s controversial masterpiece Kingdom of Heaven, where I believe we humans are stuck in at the moment.

Anyway, what I am saying is the following: A person wearing a smile is not necessarily happy and a person wearing a red ball on his nose is not necessarily a clown—some like to call it a career. Therefore, a person with a frown on his face is not necessarily an unhappy person. Catch my drift, I only wish I had a sign that read: Don’t bother to knock, I don’t want to talk, unlike the troubled Nell Forbes (Marilyn Monroe) who was desperately in need for a shoulder to cry on in Roy Baker’s grim psychoanalysis film Don’t Bother To Knock that was based on Charlotte Armstrong’s novel Mischief.

The story, which is set within the boundaries of the 24-hour plot, takes place at a New York hotel, The Mckinley. It is about a disturbed woman who is hired to look after the daughter of two of the hotel’s residents, whom fail to detect the anomalies of the suicidal blonde.

Starring Richard Widmarck, Anne Bancroft, Elisha Cook Jr, Jim Backus, Lurene Tuttle and Donna Corcoran, as Bunny Jones the little girl that Nell is supposed to baby-sit, this 1952 black and white film marked Bancroft’s debut as Lyn Lesley, a hotel lounge singer.

Monroe’s portrayal brought out to the screen her most alluring and seductive side as the lovelorn woman that mistakes a tenant, who is trying to hook up with her, as her deceased boyfriend Phillip, a fighter pilot shot down during the war.

After a frustrating break up with his girlfriend Lyn (Bancroft ) Jed Towers (Widmark), an every man figure with a bad case of apathy tries to let off some steam by calling the babysitter after spotting her from his room that lies across the other side of the building and ask her for a rendezvous.

Shot entirely in a hotel atmosphere, Baker’s film did not centralize around the character of Nell alone but around several supporting and colorful personas. We have a snooping old couple Mr and Mrs Ballew (Don Beddoe and Verna Felton); Eddie Forbes (Elisha Cook Jr), who is the elevator operator and Nell’s uncle; and Joe the bartender (Willis Bouchey), who despite of his short scenes managed to deliver a few lines that added to the plot’s hidden message.

Unless you are married then whatever you are doing is a sin—even if meant just having a night-cup with a stranger.

Baker’s film tries to dig deep into the conservative society of the 1950s America, where any relationship outside the boundaries of marriage was a taboo. Despite of its deep and firm content, there are few gags in the film that will make you laugh before you enter the realm of darkness present within the blurred mind of Nell.

The film’s climax takes place when Nell is drawn back to her disturbed mental state after Bunny (Corcoran) continuously keeps on interrupting her solace with Jed. Believing that the little girl is doing this on purpose Nell decides to rid herself of the girl. Will she kill her? Guess you will have to rent it!

Great performance on part of Widmark, who brilliantly portrayed the morphing of his non-caring character Jed to a man who cares, and by doing so Bancroft’s character was able to develop and rethink her position and emotions regarding her love interest.

The viewers will experience a non-stop rollercoaster of love and loss as they watch how the characters express themselves. However, the standing ovation for this film should go to Norma Jean, a.k.a. Marilyn Monroe, who gave a flawless performance as a natural actress and proved herself capable of taking on roles that reach out beyond the parameter of the her artificial image as a clumsy blond and, sometimes, a femme fatal.

Don’t Bother To Knock can easily slip under the film noir genre just as easily Nell slipped into one of her employer’s dresses no sooner they left the room to attend a conference. Best scenes in the film: The nonsensical conversation that takes place between Widmark and Monroe in room 809 and the scene where Monroe innocently tries our Mrs Jones’ jewelry, evening gown and perfume.

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