Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)
Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 16 min.

Release Date: July 18th, 1952 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Roy Ward Baker Actors: Richard Widmark, Marilyn Monroe, Anne Bancroft, Donna Corcoran, Jeanne Cagney, Elisha Cook Jr.

 


 

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t the McKinley Hotel in New York, lounge singer Lyn Lesley (Anne Bancroft, in her first feature role) waits for a man from Chicago, though he’s unlikely to arrive, considering that they didn’t part on the best of terms. As it turns out, that man, airplane pilot Jed Towers (Richard Widmark), is upstairs, contemplating confronting his former lover. Meanwhile, elevator jockey Eddie Forbes (Elisha Cook Jr.) sends for his niece, Nell (Marilyn Monroe), to watch little Bunny Jones (Donna Corcoran), whose parents need to attend an awards ceremony at the ballroom downstairs. Nell has no experience with children, but the hotel has plenty of kids in need of a babysitter, which means that if things go well, the Forbes might have a regular paying gig on the side.

The premise seems innocent enough at first, though the cinematography harbors a film noir vibe, particularly as Jed surrounds himself with thick cigarette smoke and eyes Lyn surreptitiously from across the room. Monroe, too, seems to conceal a wealth of dark secrets, behaving as if looking after a small girl is a career furthest from her true profession. Neither one appears capable of a smile; pessimism wafts around them like the gray vapor emanating from between every background character’s fingertips.

Although it takes a bit longer than anticipated, the plot thickens when Jed spies Nell through his window across the courtyard and, frustrated with his discordance with Lyn, gives Nell a call. “You can’t get hurt on a telephone,” he chides, when she sounds alarmed by his suggestion of a bottle of rye and a traded story or two. Of course, her situation is sketchy, since she’s in the room of her employers, she’s tried on some of Mrs. Jones’ jewelry and perfume, and she’s emotionally fragile from a prior bad relationship.

Monroe is supposed to be an insecure, unsure, unstable woman, though she’s far too well put together to be entirely convincing. She also speaks with a confidence and a carefulness that don’t relate to the flakiness of her actions. “You’re a gal with a lot of variations,” Jed suggests, unable to shed the cynicism with which he approaches everything in life – though he’s also incapable of fleeing from Nell’s external attractiveness, despite its inseparable connection with derangement.

To the film’s credit, Nell is sympathetic, for the most part, even as her pathological lying increases and her mental stability grows more uncertain. Were it not for Nell’s breaks with reality, many of the happenings in her room could have appeared in a slapstick comedy, especially as men are pushed back and forth behind doors in an attempt to preserve a sense of propriety. By the end, “Don’t Bother to Knock” evolves into an outright thriller, focusing on the intense drama of psychological trauma – and how it can’t be easily classified as villainy. The conclusion may be a touch too tidy, but the picture is fascinatingly original.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10