Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

“I should have known better — you’re not cured!”

The elevator operator (Elisa Cook, Jr.) for a fancy hotel enlists his niece (Marilyn Monroe) to babysit for the daughter (Donna Corcoran) of a couple (Jim Backus and Lurene Tuttle) attending an awards event at the hotel. Soon Monroe begins flirting with an embittered guest (Richard Widmark) who is reeling from a recent breakup with his girlfriend (Anne Bancroft) — but their flirtation quickly turns dangerous as disturbed Monroe begins to believe Widmark is actually her deceased fiance.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anne Bancroft Films
  • Governesses and Nannies
  • Marilyn Monroe Films
  • Mental Breakdown
  • Richard Widmark Films
  • Roy Ward Baker Films

Don’t Bother to Knock is best known for featuring young Marilyn Monroe in an uncharacteristically dark leading role, playing a nuanced character with more to her than mere sex appeal. To that end, her performance is impressive (we believe her pitiful “Nell” is psychotically disturbed), but the film as a whole suffers from a strange lack of authentic tension — perhaps because we never really sense a character played by MM could commit murder, or perhaps because Widmark’s character isn’t sufficiently developed. The claustrophobic events — all taking place in “real time” within the hotel — speed by at a fast-paced clip; ironically, however, this short-changes the pivotal “change-of-heart” supposedly experienced by Widmark’s character, whose real love interest (a young and beautiful Bancroft, singing several songs in her charismatic screen debut) has broken up with him because she claims he lacks sufficient empathy for others. With that said, Roy Ward Baker’s direction is solid, the economic script (just 76 minutes long) makes good use of the setting, and one does stay involved throughout.

Favorite (throwaway) exchange early in the film:

Widmark: You married?
Will Bouchey (as bartender): Sure. Who isn’t.
Widmark: You and your wife fight?
Bouchey: [beat, while he stirs a drink] Sometimes she sleeps.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Marilyn Monroe as Nell Forbes
  • Anne Bancroft as Lyn Lesley
  • Some creative direction by Roy Ward Baker

Must See?
No, though it’s definitely worth a look simply to see Monroe (and Bancroft)’s impressive “early” performances.


2 thoughts on “Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

  1. Must-see, as a nifty cult item, and for Monroe’s atypical but courageous performance.

    I’ve seen this movie every now and then – and I actually think there is plenty of tension in it, Monroe’s character is scary enough to do the unthinkable and Widmark’s character is sufficiently developed. A lot happens in this rather short film and the film’s economy and pacing are impressive. Although he would eventually primarily work in television, director Baker showed range behind some rather interesting and memorable films (i.e., ‘A Night to Remember’, ‘The Vampire Lovers’, ‘The Anniversary, ‘The October Man’, etc.) and ‘DBTK’ is no exception. It’s solid if subtle suspense.

    Monroe was the perfect choice here because she’s so stunning – and one would never imagine that someone so HOT could be so off her rocker. Those unsure of Monroe’s acting ability would do well to check this one out – it was a very smart, image-shattering move to take on this part…and Monroe would again show this kind of range in ‘Niagara’ (to a degree), ‘River of No Return’ and ‘The Misfits’. Part of the ‘tragedy’ of Monroe’s career is that she (apparently) longed to be a ‘serious actress’ – and she was one (of how many???) who could be that sexy AND also genuinely talented enough for dramatic turns.

    ‘DBTK’ could actually work better for viewers on a return visit – once you know what you learn, it can be interesting to go back and watch how things develop as they do. In my opinion, a very underrated film.

  2. I was torn in both my vote and my perspective on this flick — and think a second (actually third) viewing may be in order, per your suggestion.

    Yes, great point about Monroe — she possessed far more depth and nuance than many perhaps wanted to give her credit for, and in this case I seem to be falling into that trap myself (!).

    Months after viewing/reviewing it, the overall vibe of this film has stayed with me; I can actually remember it nearly scene-for-scene — and I think that says something…

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