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Warner Home Video presents
Who's That Knocking at My Door (1968)

"You know what a... A broad isn't exactly a virgin, you know what I mean? You, ah, you play around with them, you don't, ah... you don't marry a broad, you know what I mean?"
- J.R. (Harvey Keitel)

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: September 24, 2004

Stars: Harvey Keitel, Zina Bethune
Other Stars: Lennard Kuras, Michael Scala, Harry Northup, Bill Minkin, Phil Carlson, Wendy Russell, Robert Uricola, Susan Wood, Marrisa Joffrey, Vic Magnotta, Paul DeBonde, Catherine Scorsese
Director: Martin Scorsese

MPAA Rating: R for (nudity, sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:29m:40s
Release Date: August 17, 2004
UPC: 085393995126
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- AB+B B-

DVD Review

In 1968 Martin Scorsese's first feature-length motion picture, Who's That Knocking at My Door, received only a warm reception at the Chicago Film Festival. The low budget, independent film did not create a splash—indeed, for many years few people got the chance to see it—but it shows the beginnings of Scorsese's immense talent, which, at the time, was raw and in need of fine tuning.

Unlike many of Scorsese's future works, Who's That Knocking at My Door is a highly elliptic exhibition in filmmaking. The script, written by Scorsese, is a character study of J.R. (Harvey Keitel), a young New Yorker of Sicilian heritage. He still lives at home with his mom, but spends most of his time roaming the streets with his friends Joey (Lennard Kuras) and Sally Gaga (Michael Scala). Joey is the trio's leader, but none of the three men appear to have much ambition beyond hanging around the bar and gambling with money they don't have. All of this changes for J.R., however, when he meets a young girl (Zina Bethune) at the ferry station.

J.R.'s first encounter with the girl is the highlight, thanks in equal part to the dialogue and the filmmaking. There's a naturalism to the former, such as the two of them talking about movies like The Searchers, that is rarely heard in movies. Instead of opting for stylized, snappy rhythms and punchlines, Scorsese allows the two actors to speak with a seemingly unscripted approach that might be dull to some, but will most likely ring true. The editing (by Thelma Schoonmaker) provides a textbook example of how to make a scene interesting. If the scene had been shot and edited with the conventional shot-reverse-shot formula, it would likely bore the audience to death. The camera floats around the two characters, as if the audience is eavesdropping on an intensely personal moment. Unlike the style of Michael Bay's work, the camera movement is so fluid that it is barely noticeable and Schoonmaker's editing merges the shots together so well that the edits are largely unnoticeable.

After their chance meeting, J.R. and the girl begin to date. Her introduction into his life, as a college-educated girl from outside of Little Italy, opens J.R. up to many possibilities that he never would have recognized without her guidance. Unfortunately, the social structure around J.R., as well as his own prejudices and immaturities, makes their relationship tumultuous. Some might interpret Who's That Knocking at My Door as a misogynistic film, but in all honesty it is not. There is a difference between the film being sexist and its lead character being a sexist. J.R.'s views of women are narrow-minded, and it is understandable that Scorsese is attempting to exorcise his own chauvinistic views of women through his art. In this regard, Scorsese's debut is a complete success because the girl is the most mature, multi-dimensional character in the film. One gets the sense that J.R. could be three-dimensional, but that he chooses not to be.

Despite the successes of this work, there also are some downfalls. Most notable is an abrupt orgy scene in the middle of the film (producer Joseph Weill demanded its inclusion, or else he would not have released it) that barely fits into the picture. Despite being tastefully done, the scene is superfluous and only interrupts the narrative flow. The direction of the material is strong, but it is also apparent that this is the work of a young, unpolished filmmaker. To be sure, that is part of its strength, but it also means that at times things are not as tightly told as they should be, and at others things are left as too abstract. Scorsese's talent is on display here, but it is a far cry away from his later successes, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.

The acting is strong, especially by Harvey Keitel. For some odd reason, Keitel never achieved the kind of commercial success his compatriots did, and watching his portrayal of J.R. makes one realize how much of a shame this is. With tremendous grace, Keitel perfectly captures the struggle, tenderness, and insecurities that make up J.R. Zina Bethune is also impressive as the girl, creating a na´ve, yet strong, woman that embodies the conflict between the modernizing world and the outdated norms of Little Italy. However, it is Scorsese that brings all of the elements together to make this impressive, although flawed, debut film.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The story behind the making of Who's That Knocking at My Door will help to clarify why some of the scenes look better than others in this transfer. The scenes shot with Zina Bethune were done on 35mm, while the rest was shot earlier on 16mm and with limited lighting technology. Hence, the grain that is present in night scenes is a result of the source material and not to be blamed on the transfer. There are some scratches and a bit of dirt occasionally, but the overall presentation is properly gritty. The contrast of the black-and-white cinematography is impressive.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The original monoaural sound mix is preserved for this DVD, creating a clear listening experience. Sound exudes from the center speaker, with crisp ambience, dialogue, and sound effects (particularly the drumbeat at the beginning of the picture). The closing scene in the Church sounds great.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Mardik Martin, Martin Scorsese
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:41m:50s

Extras Review: There are two extra features on this disc. First is a selected scene commentary by Martin Scorsese and assistant director Mardik Martin. Scorsese easily dominates this track (which runs about 40 minutes and skips to the scenes with commentary) with his stories about making the film. Martin adds some interesting observations about Scorsese as a person, but spends very little time talking about the actual making movie. Listening to these guys talk about their early days in the business, however, will probably bring hope to many struggling young filmmakers.

The other feature is From the Classroom to the Streets: The Making of Who's That Knocking at My Door (12m:39s), which amounts to nothing much more than an interview with Mardik Martin. A lot of what he says here is a repeat from the commentary, but it does have a few new bits of information. Also included in the featurette are some of Scorsese's original storyboards. Both extras are worth a watch, but aren't as impressive as many other commentaries and featurettes.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

Who's That Knocking at My Door is finally on DVD. While this is not an extensive two-disc special edition, Warner has done a fine job with this release. The image transfer is a solid representation of the original material, as is the sound mix. The extras compliment the film nicely. This is a must for Scorsese fans.

 


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