Though modest in budget and undoubtedly filmed in a relatively short period of time, 20th Century Fox's Don't Bother to Knock from 1952 is the sort of movie which just about any variety of film aficionado should take a look at. Based on Mischief from the previous year by mystery novelist Charlotte Armstrong, this cult film noir piece from Julian Blaustein (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Khartoum), Don't Bother to Knock features many significant firsts in the fabulous history of film.
The first American movie by famed British director Roy Ward Baker (A Night to Remember), the production also marked the film debut of Anne Bancroft (The Graduate). But of all the different reasons film buffs tend to seek this one out, the most popular has to be the inclusion of a rising sex symbol named Marilyn Monroe (Niagara, Bus Stop). While she had already appeared in close to a dozen movies prior to this (including the highly-acclaimed The Asphalt Jungle), Monroe's "unique" acting abilities frequently made her a target of critics; the constant jabs of which prompted a title wherein the famous icon of tragedy could show off her serious side.
Set entirely in and around a hoppin' New York City hotel, Don't Bother to Knock witnesses the paralel plights of two damaged individuals over the course of an evening. At the top of the seemingly real-time feature is Kiss of Death legend Richard Widmark, who plays a hard-drinking airline pilot (read: an airline pilot) named Jed Towers. As the film opens, Jed is experiencing great difficulty with those "feelings" things, even after the hot young lounge singer of the hotel's Round-Up Room (useless fun fact: I once worked in a dinky hotel dive bar bearing the same name) ‒ Lyn Lesley (Bancroft) ‒ breaks their short romance off because he's too cynical and self-centered.
Meanwhile, senior elevator operator at the hotel, Eddie Forbes (the great Elisha Cook, Jr., who ‒ despite criminally low billing ‒ nevertheless plays a major character), has called on his young niece Nell (Monroe, in what is perhaps her most underrated starring roles) to babysit for the Joneses (Lurene Tuttle and Jim Backus) while they attend an event downstairs in Mr. Jones' honor. Initially presented as childish and naïve, there's much more to Nell than meets the eye (candy) as she begins to adorn Mrs. Jones' clothing and jewelry ‒ something a lonely Jed sees from across the hotel courtyard from his room (where he has retired to drink some more) and sees a gorgeous blonde flirting with him.
Unable to resist the temptation, Jed and Nell chat over the telephone before she invites the handsome older gentleman over while the little Jones girl (Donna Corcoran) sleeps in the adjacent bedroom. But it doesn't take Jed ‒ a man whose profession depends on his ability to see red flags and react in time ‒ long to assess something is wrong with poor Nell. One warning sign are the deep scars she sports on her wrists. An additional sign of potential caution comes to light as Nell begins to drift away from reality, believing Jed is actually her long-lost pilot boyfriend, who was lost at sea several years before. Still another red flag pops up when we realize Nell is, in fact, a complete nutcase.
Don't Bother to Knock first popped up on my radar in the early '90s on AMC,back when it was in its infancy. I remember the promotional hype the network used in conjunction with the premiere of the feature around that time, wherein I was an awkward teenager. In fact, I recently found a videocassette I had recorded of said airing, which served to remind me this interesting (if somewhat forgettable) B-noir even existed. When Twilight Time subsequently announced a forthcoming Blu-ray release of the title, I was excited to see the film once more, albeit this time in High-Definition (a stark contrast to a TV recording captured on VHS in EP Mode) and as an adult.
Needless to say, the change in perspective made a substantial difference. As a teen, Don't Bother to Knock was a curiosity item fueled by the appearance of character actor Elisha Cook, Jr. (The Maltese Falcon) ‒ no stranger to the many classic noir, horror, and exploitation movies I developed a passion for at an early age ‒ on-screen alongside Marilyn Monroe and Richard Widmark. As an adult, however, the film offered more than just a favorite character actor in action: there was a sliver of emotion present in this viewing. Granted, a sliver was about all the emotion this production could afford, but anyone who has ever automatically dismissed Marilyn as a non-actress would do well to check this one out.
Playing a femme fatale of a different color (but still in black-and-white), Marilyn's portrayal of Nell Forbes undoubtedly evokes her own haunted past; it is not so much acting as it is reacting. And it is particularly effective, especially as the seemingly innocent Nell begins to idly threat ‒ and, later, assault ‒ the small child she has been entrusted to look after once Widmark's Jed threatens to bail out. Widmark himself isn't given a whole heck of a lot of material to work with here, and his character isn't very meaty (this wasa Marilyn showcase vehicle, clearly), but Dickie still goes from bitter cynical bastard to concerned human being in his usual smooth way.
Third-billed Anne Bancroft, on the other hand, is hardly in the movie. Rarely seen outside of the lounge where she croons one (usually forgettable) love song after another, young Miss Bancroft's part is mostly heard: her live performance is broadcast through the hotel's in-house radio station, which our main characters listen to in their rooms. It's almost like a Greek chorus, except that it really isn't. Nevertheless, her talent (as well as beauty) demands your attention when she ison-screen, even when she and Marilyn meet for the first time towards the film's conclusion. It may not be the most memorable film in either performer's career, but it still warrants a good scrutiny.
Also appearing in this drama from the future director of several Hammer and Amicus horror classics are Verna Felton (the voice of Wilma's mother in The Flintstones) and former Three Stooges foil Don Beddoe as a pair of nosy neighbors, and western regular Willis Bouchey (Support Your Local Sheriff) as the Round-Up Room bartender. Amongst the uncredited performers are Joan Blondell's lesser-known sister Gloria Blondell as an eager lounge photographer, Michael (D.O.A.) Ross ‒ who usually played a bartender or cop ‒ as the house detective, and the underrated voice actor Vic Perrin (the Control Voice of The Outer Limits) can be seen as an elevator operator.
Making its debut on Blu-ray (another first for this film!), the subtle charmer Don't Bother to Knock arrives in beautiful High-Definition from Twilight Time courtesy the 20th Century Fox vault. Serving up the neglected (if somewhat unmemorable overall) noir classic in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio (and shows more information at the top and bottom of the screen than the 2004 Fox SD-DVD did), Twilight Time's MPEG-4 AVC 1080p encode presents us with a crisp, clear, and clean transfer that is something to behold. The short 76-minute feature is accompanied by a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono soundtrack, which is more than adequate. Optional English (SDH) subtitles are included.
Special features for this Region Free, Limited Edition release from Twilight Time start out with an isolated score by uncredited composer Lionel Newman (who recycled his brother Alfred's opening theme music from 1950's Panic in the Streets, which also starred Richard Widmark) in DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo. Two featurettes ‒ which were each broadcast on A&E's Biography ‒ are also included here. The first is 1994's Marilyn Monroe: The Mortal Goddess. The second, Richard Widmark: Strength of Characters from 2000, was previously seen on Twilight Time's Hell and High Water and Fox's Panic in the Streets. Both make for damn good informative viewing.
Lastly here, we have the original theatrical trailer, rescued from what looks like an analog recording, and liner notes by film noir historian Julie Kirgo. While it is surprising to note there is no audio commentary for this title given its genre and cast, this is nevertheless a worthy addition to the libraries of any devoted fan of Monroe, Widmark, film noir, Twilight Time, and/or ‒ if you're a lover of quirky old character actors like me ‒ maybe even Elisha Cook, Jr., too. Like 99% of all Twilight Time releases, this title is limited to only 3,000 copies, so Don't Bother to Knock, or else you may miss out on this one forever.