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kingrat

Knock on Any Door

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Friday, Dec. 3 at 1:45 EST (10:45 PST) is KNOCK ON ANY DOOR. This film presents an interesting problem in film criticism. Take two films, each with the same great star (Humphrey Bogart), the same talented director (Nicholas Ray), and a solid script. Both are made about the same time. One of them, IN A LONELY PLACE, is much admired, even considered a masterpiece by some, including me. The other, KNOCK ON ANY DOOR, not so much. Why the difference in quality?

 

Gloria Grahame is Bogart's co-star for IN A LONELY PLACE. For KNOCK ON ANY DOOR it's John Derek. This turns out to matter a lot. (Whether this make Derek the real auteur of the film, I'll leave for others to decide.) I first became aware of John Derek as a slightly creepy-looking older man who had a gorgeous, significantly younger wife whose name was sometimes Ursula Andress, sometimes Linda Evans, and sometimes Bo Derek. The shocker is that as a young man John Derek was just as beautiful as his future wives. He's playing a young juvenile delinquent type called Pretty Boy, and the nickname fits. Derek did well in a small part in ALL THE KING'S MEN, which probably got him the juicy role in KNOCK ON ANY DOOR. Cast Marlon Brando or Montgomery Clift as the mixed-up young hoodlum, and you'd probably have another great film. Derek doesn't have the acting chops. Bogart seems somewhat routine as the kid's lawyer, but then he doesn't have a Gloria Grahame to inspire him. The potential of an excellent script is mostly untapped.

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I think you've also written up my reasons, too. I just don't care for John Derek. Not his character (and not him). And I don't really see why someone else would either, much less the Bogart character.

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Thanks for the alert. We had a rather involved discussion here of *In a Lonely Place* about a year or so ago so this will be interesting. I seem to remember reading the novel (KOAD) when I was a kid, by James T. Farrall I think, part of a trilogy.

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"The shocker is that as a young man John Derek was just as beautiful as his future wives."

 

Wow! That cracked me up!!! LOL. And very true. He was beautiful. He almost made Tony Curtis look like Joe Schmoe.

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*Friday, Dec. 3 at 1:45 EST (10:45 PST) is KNOCK ON ANY DOOR. This film presents an interesting problem in film criticism. Take two films, each with the same great star (Humphrey Bogart), the same talented director (Nicholas Ray), and a solid script. Both are made about the same time. One of them, IN A LONELY PLACE, is much admired, even considered a masterpiece by some, including me. The other, KNOCK ON ANY DOOR, not so much. Why the difference in quality?*

 

John Derek vs. Gloria Grahame is one possibility. It was Derek's first sizable movie role, he's not the greatest actor of all time, and his character -- unlike most major characters in Ray movies -- is one-dimensional. That Ray and Grahame were married while filming *In a Lonely Place* likely adds considerable flavor to the proceedings.

 

Ray himself expressed some disappointment with Knock On Any Door: I wish Luis Bu?uel had made *The Young and the Damned* (1950) before I made *Knock on Any Door* (1949), because I would have made a hell of a lot better film.

 

Perhaps the key difference in Ray's approach to the two movies is that Ray said that *In a Lonely Place* was his most personal film. That can make a world of difference.

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Excellent question, Kingrat.

 

I watched Knock on Any Door for the first time this summer. I was excited to watch it because of Ray-Bogart, so my expectations were very high. I came away from the viewing deeply disappointed. It's actually become one of my least favorite of classic films. With me, Knock on Any Door is Ray's "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt," which is my least favorite of Fritz Lang.

 

I felt as if Knock on Any Door played like a PSA. Everything felt forced and "trying too hard." While I liked the message and the twist of the story, the delivery of it all was extremely heavy-handed. It felt like an "after school special" with Bogart attempting to win an Oscar at the end.

 

John Derek is a big reason why I struggled with the film, but I lay more at the feet of Ray. Ray is one of the most emotional of directors that I've encountered but the emotion in this film played false notes. I was fully expecting to care about the characters, but I never really do. It never gets deep enough for me to care. The film kind of reminds me of a hollow Public Enemy. And a later film that is similar to Knock on Any Door is Compulsion. I find that one to be more powerful and explosive.

 

Bogart is top-billed in Knock on Any Door but he's not the lead, more so our narrator, our orator. He's the "father" of the film but it's all about the "son." He's also presenting his case to us, the jury. But a poorly-presented case by a lawyer/director creates distance with the jury/viewer.

 

With In a Lonely Place, the film is about a relationship between Bogart and Gloria Grahame. They are center stage. Bogart isn't just telling us about the fire, he's one of the flames.

 

I think Knock on Any Door would be an interesting watch with 12 Angry Men.

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I think Derek actually acquits himself quite nicely in this movie. It is hard to believe he's a hoodlum and possible killer, but I don't think he ruins the film at all. I was quite moved by his testimony at the end when the D. A. is badgering him. Although the situation is a little unbelievable, it's very dramatic.

 

I do think it's not one of Bogart's better efforts though.

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Wow, what excellent posts this topic has received. Helen, I enjoy your posts and I'm glad to have someone stand up for John Derek. Afraid I'm with the naysayers on this one. By the way, Henry Willson ("The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson") considered Derek the most handsome man in Hollywood at the time. There's an amusing anecdote about this in the book of the same name.

 

Frank, you've put your finger on something important: Derek has the pivotal role, and Bogart actually has a supporting part. I agree with you and Helen that this isn't one of his better performances. In his best films Bogart is so good in scenes with other actors--as with Gloria Grahame in IN A LONELY PLACE--and here he seems frustrated by the lack of chemistry with Derek. Surely this ought to be an intense substitute father/son relationship?

 

Which brings us back to ChiO's comment that Nicholas Ray didn't feel a personal connection to this material (yes) and Frank's comments about Ray's lackluster direction. This isn't the worst Ray film that I've seen--that would be KING OF KINGS. Actually, I've only seen the middle hour of the film, the whole John the Baptizer subplot and a bit more. But Frank's comparison to Lang's BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT makes sense. Both films feel flat.

 

Some directors might have been drawn to the problem drama aspect of KNOCK ON ANY DOOR. Others might have savored the Hitchcock-like twist and tailored the film in the Hitchcock manner. Perhaps a director like Wyler, Litvak, or Negulesco would have built up the two main female roles.

 

We have so many examples of gifted actors and directors struggling with inadequate screenplays that it's interesting to look at KNOCK AT ANY DOOR where the acting and directing isn't up to the quality of the script.

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