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Don't Bother to Knock
Monroe had supporting parts in films like The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve - both also available on Blu-ray - but Don't Bother To Knock marked the first time she appeared as a leading lady. Someone at the studio must have had a tremendous amount of faith in her, as the role required someone who would not only command the screen with their looks, but with a powerful performance to boot. To that end, I think she did quite well.
She plays the part of Nell, who's babysitting a young girl named Bunny. From the get go, we can tell that there's something off about her. She gives off a deeply unsettling vibe that tells us she probably wouldn't mix well with others, let alone children. Even so, she does alright with the babysitting gig until Jed (Richard Widmark) - who's just been burned again by Lyn (Anne Bancroft), an ex-girlfriend who had broken up with him through a letter - sees Nell through his window from across the courtyard. He's immediately infatuated, to the point where he tracks down her room number, gets a phone number and gives her a call. He invites himself over in the hopes of getting to know her better, and while Nell's initially reluctant, eventually caves and calls him over.
Things get pretty intense from this point on. Like most noirs, Don't Bother To Knock doesn't lead up to a couple of men who sneer and brood and chase each other with guns in dark hallways or twisted alleys. Instead, Nell quickly becomes unhinged and Jed begins to realize he's in over his head. He thinks about begging his ex-girlfriend for forgiveness, but this sets off a series of events which leaves no doubt that Nell is as crazy as she seemed all along, if not crazier. I won't spoil the rest of the film, but it's a nail biter, for sure.
As mentioned previously, this film ultimately wouldn't have worked if Monroe failed to portray her character well enough, which was no easy task considering she had to be multi-layered and ultimately crazy. If her performance seemed weak or insincere, the studio would have chalked their decision of making her a leading lady down as a mistake, and Monroe may not have had the opportunity to further her career. But not just a pretty face, she managed to make this one of the most unnerving noirs I've seen in some time… which is funny now that I've researched the film's history (I didn't want to spoil anything prior to my first watch).
Reviews weren't kind to this film, and in at least one case, had pegged Monroe's performance as laughable. I… don't see that at all. This definitely isn't the best noir I've seen, not by a longshot, but Monroe was its biggest strength. She channeled her own mother - who had mental issues of her own - in her performance, and it's the sole reason this film works as well as it does. What I felt was lacking was any semblance of depth, and that's a result of the script. Neither the characters nor plot really did much to intrigue, and a bit more complexity wouldn't have hurt. There were troubles behind-the-scenes which meant filming wasn't as organic as the director would have liked, but I don't think that's what contributed to the concept being both wide and deep as a puddle. I appreciate that this film avoids a number of genre tropes, but the audience could have used something a bit more substantial to sink their teeth into. But, the fact that this film plays on our nerves rather than our minds is admirable, especially since it works.
Even if you don't agree and think this is just a ho-hum film, we're still talking about Marilyn Monroe's first major role in high definition. Twilight Time have done a great job bringing this to us, and considering it's limited to only 3,000 copies, classic film enthusiasts should jump on this immediately.
Don't Bother To Knock makes its way to Blu-ray via the AVC codec at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and it's a great looking transfer. We've seen how good old black and white films can look in high definition before, but you never know how much the quality is going to waver until you get your hands on a product. Well, the image is consistently sharp and provides plenty of detail. Film grain is preserved quite well, and you're not going to find any major film damage. Yes, certain shots may appear softer than others, but that's just the nature of the beast. Where this transfer really excels is with its black levels. There's a lot that hinges upon how light and darkness play with one another, and it seems the director's original intent has been preserved with ease. Feel confident in a purchase based on the picture quality alone!
The rear cover for this release states this comes with a 1.0 mono track, but my player and receiver are detecting a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono track. There's nothing to be alarmed about though, because the audio presentation is still a sold representation of the source. The dialogue and score are always crisp and balanced well with one another, and none of it has been marred with any of that old ‘soundtrack hiss' effect.
-Isolated Music Track (2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio)
-Marilyn Monroe: The Mortal Goddess (Full Episode of A&E Biography)
-Richard Widmark: Strength of Characters (Full Episode of A&E Biography)
Don't Bother To Knock is a surprising film for a multitude of reasons. To begin, it offers the most intense performance from Marilyn Monroe that I've seen to date. Her portrayal of a person with severe mental issues is the star of the show. Despite being a seemingly low-budget affair, her performance managed to ratchet tension with precision and kept me glued to the edge of my seat. It's not a perfect film, but it does what it set out to do quite well. Twilight Time has managed to bring this film - which features Monroe's first leading lady role - to Blu-ray in a wonderful package complete with booklet, a great audio/visual presentation, as well as a few excellent supplemental additions. Highly Recommended.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!