Second Looks: Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

(Image via Twenty Four Frames)
(Image via Twenty Four Frames)

Lyn Lesley (Anne Bancroft) is a singer, working at the McKinley Hotel in New York city. Her boyfriend, pilot Jed Towers (Richard Widmark), is set to arrive in town any minute, but “excited” would not be the way to describe her mood. She mailed him a letter saying that she wanted to end their relationship, and she’s nervous to have that conversation with him in person.

At the same hotel, Eddie the elevator operator (Elisha Cook, Jr.) has helped his niece Nell (Marilyn Monroe) get a babysitting gig with two of the hotel guests. Nell is new to town, and very shy. Eddie is doing his best to help her make a life for herself.

Jed happens to be staying in a room across the courtyard from the Jones’, the guests Nell is babysitting for. After talking with Lyn, he’s sulking. When he sees Nell through the window, he’s instantly smitten and decides that he must meet her.

Roy Ward Baker directs 1952’s Don’t Bother to Knock. The screenplay was written by Daniel Taradash, from the novel Mischief by Charlotte Armstrong.

Don’t Bother to Knock marked Anne Bancroft’s film debut, and her performance is very good. The first time I saw this film, I was watching it as a budding Marilyn fan and of course paid the most attention to her performance. While Monroe is great and I love the fact that this role gives her some psychological complexity to work with, this re-watch gave me a great appreciation for Don’t Bother to Knock as an ensemble film. The entire cast is great — Ann, Marilyn, Richard, Elisha. Talented folks doing very solid work.

On the whole, the film is a bit of a wild watch. Nell speaks mostly in low-volume riddles, almost as if she is in a daze. Between her emotional scars and Richard’s confusion over their conversations, plus a hefty dose of drama brought in by the fact that there’s a child in Nell’s care, Don’t Bother to Knock is compelling, if a bit melodramatic at times. It does a lot with a little, creating plenty of complications from the simple “disturbed babysitter” scenario.

(Image via Movie Morlocks)
(Image via Movie Morlocks)

Though I would personally class Don’t Bother to Knock as a psychological drama, it also has hints of a thriller, with a photographic atmosphere that often recalls film noir.

As often occurs with this “Second Looks” series, I came away from this re-watch with a renewed appreciation for Don’t Bother to Knock. It is a film that shows Marilyn Monroe’s potential as a dramatic actress (proving that she should have been given many more chances to show her range) and features great performances across the board from her castmates, in addition to effectively creating a grim, unsettling mood.

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