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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Don't Bother To Knock (1952)

"It wasn't a very long story, but it has a happy ending. I think that's nice, don't you?"
- Nell (Marilyn Monroe)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: May 06, 2002

Stars: Richard Widmark, Marilyn Monroe
Other Stars: Anne Bancroft, Donna Corcoran, Jeanne Cagney, Lurene Tuttle, Elisha Cook, Jr., Jim Backus, Verna Felton, Willis B. Bouchey, Don Beddoe
Director: Roy Baker

Manufacturer: dvcc
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:16m:06s
Release Date: May 14, 2002
UPC: 024543035046
Genre: film noir


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ BB+B C

DVD Review

I don't know what your childhood was like, but I can tell you this about mine: none of the babysitters Mom and Dad ever employed to look after me were as smoldering as the one that Marilyn Monroe plays in this movie. (None of them were as obviously psychotic, either.) Clocking in at a taut seventy-six minutes, this is a smart and creepy little movie featuring Marilyn as much more than just a bombshell, or a punchline, and she's surrounded by just a terrific supporting cast.

The credit sequence orients us immediately to the sort of thing we're in for: a jazzy, percussive score plays over shots of the Manhattan skyline. All the action takes place in the McKinley Hotel, itself something of a relic—it's a residential hotel that isn't skanky or seedy, in which the right sort of people live (just ask them), as well as accommodating visitors from out of town. One of those is Jed, played by Richard Widmark; he's an airline pilot just in from Chicago, because his girlfriend, the fetching Lyn Lesley (a young Anne Bancroft), sent him a Dear John letter, and she's the singer in the hotel bar. Another of the great lost details of the time are the radios in all the hotel rooms, on which guests can tune into the entertainment from the hotel lounge. It means that Jed can torment himself by listening to the girl who dumped him singing love songs. (I don't know if Bancroft's voice is dubbed or not, but the story device allows for some swinging period tunes on the soundtrack, including How About You?, We'll Take Manhattan, and Chattanooga Choo Choo.)

Meanwhile, upstairs, Mr. and Mrs. Jones (she's played by Lurene Tuttle; he's played by Jim Backus, aka Thurston Howell III) need a babysitter for their daughter Bunny; Mr. J is in town to accept some sort of journalism award. Ever-helpful elevator man Eddie (Elisha Cook Jr.) has a bright idea: his niece, Nell, is new in town from Oregon, and could look after the little girl. (Cook is the most obsequious hotel employee imaginable—when a patron returns from the bar, he's deeply concerned: "I hope the liquor was satisfactory, sir.") Enter Marilyn, looking sad beyond words—but everything should go fine, right?

Wrong. Lyn sticks it to Jed, and won't take him back; he retires to his room with a bottle of rye, and across the way spies Nell trying on Mrs. Jones' kimono and jewels. They play a cat and mouse game with the Venetian blinds across the courtyard, each of them watching and performing for the other—it's the best bit of voyeuristic cinema this side of Rear Window and Peeping Tom. Widmark is especially good—lanky and mean, always ready to crack wise, and a sucker for a pretty girl. (Especially if she looks like Marilyn Monroe.) He'll even tell you as much: "The female race is always cheesing up my life."

Jed and his bottle of rye cross the floor to the room where Nell is looking after Bunny—he seems to be looking for a rebound quickie, she's looking for a little male attention, so is this a match made in heaven, or what? (If she doesn't know what he's after, we sure do, when she comments to him on the phone: "You sound peculiar." "I'm not peculiar," he replies, "I'm just frustrated.") But there's something deeply troubled about Nell, and she starts talking and acting crazy, one minute kissing Jed, the next minute screaming at him. This is Marilyn Monroe at her most Blanche Du Bois, conflating Jed with her dead boyfriend, killed in the war, alternately lashing out at him for leaving her, and embracing him for returning. Life's too short for this, and Jed tries to hightail it out of there: "You bother me, I can't figure you out. You're silk on one side, and sandpaper on the other." As they inevitably do in these sorts of movies, complications ensue, aided and abetted by the hotel detective and some nosy neighbors.

The screenplay by Daniel Taradash (who is probably best known for his Oscar®-winning script the following year for From Here To Eternity) crackles with great stylized noir dialogue ("I'm not angry, I'm just furious"), and it also provides one of the great character reveals, as we discover that Nell isn't just a poor little waif, but seriously and deeply crazy. I don't want to spoil the details for those who haven't seen it, but given how protective movie stars are of their reputations, how desperate they seem to be to be loved unequivocally by their audience, it's great to see Monroe playing against that, and especially nice that she's given more to do than just stand around and be sexy. She's got some acting chops, and you can just about see the Actors Studio method at work in her performance. And good acting is contagious—Widmark, Cook, Bancroft (in her screen debut) and even little Donna Corcoran as Bunny turn in fine work.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: This is a handsomely photographed picture, nicely restored and transferred to DVD by Fox. Still, it sometimes shows the wear of its fifty years, and scratches and nicks show up now and again in the frame. It looks remarkably better than previous video releases of the movie, though, and better than the print that runs with some frequency on American Movie Classics.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The stereo track would be the one of choice, and the transfer is pretty clean, though a little hiss shows up now and then. The original sound edit of this movie was obviously done with great care—going from the nightclub music to the silent hotel rooms and the nighttime city sounds—and the dynamics are well served on this DVD.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Let's Make Love, Monkey Business, Niagara, River Of No Return, Marilyn Monroe: The Diamond Collection
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Still gallery
Extras Review: The featurette (01m:28s) is a restoration demonstration, and the side-by-side, before-and-after images are a fine way to show how much care has gone into the effort. The still gallery is twenty-six images, mostly photographs from the production, with a couple of shots of publicity materials thrown in for good measure. The original trailer is a pip, with narration from Widmark that doesn't appear in the feature ("The screen has never shown this kind of woman before. The kind that reaches out in the loneliness of the night to a stranger passing by"), and promises that in this movie, "the most talked-about actress of 1952 rockets to stardom!"

Extras Grade: C

 

Final Comments

This isn't necessarily Marilyn Monroe's finest hour, or the best film noir you'll ever see, but it's a tight, entertaining little movie with strong acting values and a high level of technical craftsmanship. It will probably make you think twice about checking your babysitter's references, or perhaps about hitting on strange women in hotels, no matter how good they look. It's a very nice looking DVD, which is the way to watch it, instead of leaving the kids at home and hoping that Richard Widmark (with or without his bottle of rye) doesn't show up when you're out on the town. Recommended.

 


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