Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)
A babysitter has a nervous breakdown while on the job in a hotel and while courting a man kindling a potential love affair. Marilyn Monroe stars as a recovering inmate, Nell Forbes, from an asylum looking for a fresh start with the help of her Uncle Eddie (Elisha Cook ). As an elevator operator he sets her up with a job as babysitter for a daughter named Bunny (Donna Corcoran) through the night as parental guests (Jim Backus and Lurene Tuttle) are attending a dinner party in the hotel’s ballroom. Meanwhile Jed Towers (Richard Widmark) is on hand as an argumentative suiter who has just called it off with his lover, a ballroom singer Lyn Lesley, played by Anne Bancroft. Her voice is hear d all through the night and throughout the hotel and radios . A constant reminder of his previous life. While drinking his troubles away Jed sees Nell, dancing to house radio. After talking to each other through the from afar he invites himself over. From there, it gets kind of strange. The more they get to know each the more one notices how fractured she is. With every attempt to cut his loses is countered by seemingly white lies only to turn in child abuse, assault, and bondage. Thinking that is all just a bad date, Only in retrospect and hindsight does he realize what kind turmoil the child is in. The only other movie I can think of like it for overall effect is that strange Charles Bronson “stageplay” thriller SOMEONE BEHIND THE DOOR. Like Bronson in that one set movie, Monroe cannot really remember who she is anymore. This is further exemplified by not only her inability to distinguish her past lovers but also her need to wear other women's clothing. She's not even in home. She plays it as an adult in a state of arrested development playing house with someone else's toys.
This is a slightly more unusual film noir thrillers dealing with mental disintegration and the jeopardy of childhood. Not only does it feature Monroe as at her most unhinged but she also at her most awkward and vulnerable. Also half the movie takes place in a hotel room. On the the surface it’s a Fox product using their assets like Marilyn Monroe, Richard Widmark, Anne Bancroft and on-staff studio director Roy Ward Baker. Its so close to being disposable stuff for an afternoon, just another 1950s melodrama. If one is not a fan of the mentioned talent, than this could turn people off at first thinking that it is a thriller that only tip toes around the subject matter. Had the movie not featured Marilyn Monroe, it probably would be just that. In what could have been a sleazy thriller turns out to a surprisingly poignant suspense drama that at times plays as a comedy of manners revised as a tragedy of manners. All of which underscored by Monroe’s performance. Imagine if you will THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH rethought as PLAY MISTY FOR ME or FATAL ATTRACTION. It even ventures into 1970s style jeopardy showing how Monroe makes a child shut up, anticipating some of the tender brutalness found in CAT O NINE TAILS and RABID DOGS. One could say they that’s it on auto pilot as DON’T is not thick with style. Yet it's not ordinary. It’s a slow build with the problems stacking up almost to the point of absurdity but no quite. The story always keeps the balance just right, to keep things moving along. Monroe shows that her acting chops taking the dumb blonde routine into uncharted territory, it's done seemingly on instinct and recall. As her private life was riddled with mental problems, not helped by a short marriages and an unbalanced mother. This is not the “Actress” fully formed and developed actrss from BUS STOP or THE MISFITS. It’s a more instinctual. This is not a raw performance. Its certainly manipulative and delusional.
Between Uncle Eddie’s watchful eye on his niece and Jed’s wanting of a one night stand and the old couple watching from a far, we have a story of observation and anticipation veering into Peeping Tom territory (the Straw Man not the movie) . Its also a story of concealment as Nell is constantly changing stories, keeping a child locked in a bedroom and uncle in a closet. Im telling you there is a lot of subtext going here! Like the couple the more you see it the more you notice it yet the more you mentioned it the more ridiculous one may seem it discussing the events throughout the movie. In addition DON’T is also a glimpse at apartment and high rise living. Not only do we see Jed watching Nell but we also see a interloping couple viewing the events from afar, a surrogate audience watching and wanting to be involved. To compound it all, we also have a story of how shell shocked people were at home in addition to the ones that went to war. There are people who never had the chance to to write a Dear John letter.
This really should have been a confused thriller about nothing. Yes, it does work, as the build up is in how, through conversation and observation, Jed gets to know Nell, the more we see a person unravel. . It not as tight or sharp compared to masters like Lang or Hitchcock or Argento. Yet is does strike a tension and never falters. Ultimately, it’s a story dealing with fragile people both a child by a window, a several relationships that have worn out their welcome, and babysitter who in a state of confusion. This is given its visual emphasis as Jed and Lyn prop up Nell like a rag doll after a suicide attempt in the the lobby. A visually image that wouldn’t see the likes of again until Asia Argento was wailing and in limp form from the conclusion of the STENDHAL SYNDROME. Thanks fully the the above line talents keeps this from being anonymous product. Lucien Ballard was the Director of Photography and keeps the up the motif of open spaces and doors among the entrapment. Despite its setting it's not as claustrophobic as you’d think. Its making characters seem like lonely islands or passing ships in the night. Julian Blaustein (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, KHARTOUM) wrote the screenplay based on a novel titled “Mischief” by Charlotte Armstrong. Armstrong also wrote the story for THE THREE WEIRD SISTERS (1948) and has been adapted by Claude Chabrol a couple of times over. Directed by Roy Ward Baker, he replaced Jules Dassin. Baker has always been a sure hand striking the balance between ridiculous and sublime and absurdity. This is the guy that made INFERNO with Robert Ryan, QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, collaborated with Eric Ambler at Rank and A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, and THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES. DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK is also a good movie among his many good movies.
Ill try to check this one out.