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Don't Bother to Knock 1952

An airline pilot, dumped by his girlfriend, pursues a baby-sitter in his hotel...and gradually realizes she's dangerous...

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*sigh* Another movie not in the RT database. How could they possibly not include a crummy, mostly-forgotten TV-movie remake of a classic film? Is How to Marry a Billionaire in this thing?

I'd never seen Don't Bother to Knock, best known for having Marilyn Monroe play a frumpy psychopathic babysitter, until yesterday. Earlier this week, Fox Movie Channel aired both it and the above-eluded to TV remake, The Sitter, though they inexplicably aired The Sitter first. So I had to tape both films, then wait until the next day before I could watch them in the proper order. Oh, the complicated life I lead. It's a wonder I have time to work.

Don't Bother to Knock is kind of the granddaddy of psycho babysitter films, a genre that's been spun off into films like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, The Babysitter (the bad Shatner one, not the even worse Alicia Silverstone one) and The Housekeeper. The film may have also inspired the babysitters-being-harassed-by-psychos genre of When a Stranger Calls, Tricks or Treats and Eyes of a Stranger, so I'm honestly a little ashamed I never saw the film until now.

Monroe plays Nell, a young woman living with her uncle after being released from the mental institution she was sent to after having a nervous breakdown following the death of her husband in WWII. Her uncle (expert nervous character vet Elisha Cook Jr.) works as an elevator operator at a local hotel, and when a couple is need of a babysitter for the evening (the dad is Jim Backus!), he suggests Nell, knowing she needs some sort of income.

Now, Nell is supposed to be kind of dowdy, which they do by having Monroe wear a brunette wig and dress in less-than-flattering clothes, at least until she puts on her employer's nightgown. It's a good attempt, but still manages to be only slightly more believable that strapping a rag onto Catherine Deneuve's head in an effort to make her look like a factory worker in Dancer in the Dark. Some stars just can't, well, not be stars.

Meanwhile, airline pilot Jed (Richard Widmark) flies into town to visit his lounge singer girlfriend (Anne Bancroft!) who's trying very hard to dump him. He doesn't take it well, and ends up watching Nell through his window, eventually making his way into the room where she's babysitting the precocious little girl.

Roy Ward Baker (before his career careened into British horror) infuses the movie with a fair share of tension, especially since for a good portion of the film, you're not entirely sure that Jed isn't about to go as bonkers as Nell. (I mean, it's Richard Widmark.) The highlight is a very effective sequence where Nell looks as though she's about to push the little girl out of an open window, and knowing that production codes of the time probably wouldn't let that happen doesn't make it any less tense.

The thing is, there's really not all that much to it. The characters don't have that much depth to them, so it never manages to be a psychological drama, and it's not dark enough to be classified as "film noir." Still, it's an entertaining 76 minutes that will pass by quickly enough to be worth a look.

And it's certainly much better than The Sitter, a slipshod TV-movie that puts Kim Myers in the Monroe role. I thought she looked familiar at first, like a young Meryl Streep or the woman who played the would-be girlfriend of the gay guy in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2. I then discovered it was the girl from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2. I'm so good.

The Sitter takes all the elements of Don't Bother to Knock and mixes them up in a mad scramble, then desperately attempts to put them back together again. An aunt has been added to the equation, the couple in need of a sitter is now an author rather than a journalist, the lounge singer is gone, the pilot is now an insurance salesman (I guess this was an attempt to make him seem more exciting?) and the once comic-relief dog lady character is turned into a dog training expert whose dog is, we're led to believe, killed by Nell halfway though the film, though nothing ever becomes of it.

The reasoning behind Nell's psychological weirdness is different too. No longer is she looking for her lost love. Now, she's obsessed with having a family, and instead of being icy to the little girl, she bonds with her, taking her out of the hotel to play three-card monte with Breakin' 2's Adolfo "Shabba-Doo" Quinones (!), buy a dress, go to a toy store and generally do everything Ferris Bueller would do if he was an 8-year-old girl. Meanwhile, the parents are stuck at a dinner that seems to take place over several days a la Le Grande Bouffe, the only explanation for so much being able to happen while they're away.

While the acting is generally okay, especially character actor Eugene Roche stepping into Elisha Cook Jr.'s sweaty shoes, the whole thing reeks of being re-written during the course of the production. Nell now seems completely nuts from the get-go, the parents mention that their daughter is "upstairs" when they left her in a completely different building, there's a maid that seems to want to clean the room in the middle of the night(!) and, of course, there's that dog sub-plot that goes nowhere. It's no wonder that writer/director Rick Berger hasn't done a thing since then.

Yep, the sheer stupidity of the sub-Lifetime The Sitter made me appreciate Don't Bother to Knock so much more. DBtK may not be a perfect film, but at least it's a coherant one with a few thrills. Viewers of The Sitter might find themselves too involved with how inane everything is to even come close to getting interested in any of the characters.

(The Sitter is the second thing I've seen this week in which players beat the three card monte dealer. Y'know, maybe you should figure out how the three card monte scam works before becoming a dealer? Or writing it into a movie? The hint is in the word "scam.")
"I don't get you," Richard Widmark says to Marilyn Monroe in this thriller. "You're like silk on one side and sandpaper on the other." That pretty well sums up what I think of this odd little thriller, one of Marilyn Monroe's first big vehicles. Had she not been in it, the movie would have been forgotten long ago. However, Marilyn's appearance sparks interest for two reasons.

First, it was one of her earliest leads, and even then she had a presence like no one else. Marilyn wasn't prone to phoning in her performances; she threw herself into the hoariest of roles, of which this is certainly one. She gives the movie more emotional depth than it demands---a feat she would repeat many times.

However, the emotional depth she reaches in this movie cuts uncomfortably close to reality. She plays a disturbed babysitter, a suicidal woman with a painful past. Except for the babysitter part, that sadly tends to describe Marilyn too. God only knows what she must have been thinking when she read the script; she could relate all too well to much of it.

Consequently, most of this movie's power comes from Marilyn and the knowledge that parts of it must have struck a chord with her---moreso than anything in the movie itself. The writing and direction and most of the performances are unexceptional, though it is fun to see a young Anne Bancroft in a role as a nightclub chanteuse. For Marilyn fans, it's worth a look---but watch out for those moments when it cuts a little close to the bone.
Solid thriller with a very insightful performance from Marilyn Monroe, Richard Widmark does a fine job as well. It always held my interest and wasn't predictable. Well done.
SYNOPSIS: An airline pilot, dumped by his girlfriend, pursues a baby-sitter in his hotel...and gradually realizes she's dangerous.



REVIEW: Performance-wise, this movie is right up there with Niagra as far as well-acted Marilyn Monroe dramas go. She is absolutely brilliant in this movie and her character is constantly unfolding, becoming more and more dangerous and unstable. The supporting cast is excellent as well and although the ending may be a bit of a let down, the journey getting there is well worth it. I highly recommend this movie to people who have only seen Marilyn's comedies. THIS is Marilyn acting at her best. (And in Niagra too).

CATEGORY RATINGS:
- STORY: 8.5
- ACTING: 8
- VISUALS: 6.5
- DIRECTIONS: 7.5
- ENTERTAINMENT FACTOR: 7
OVERALL AVERAGE RATING: 7.5

Poor, Tragic Norma Jean

Really, it's not that she couldn't act. People kind of think she couldn't, but it's not true. I could point you, out of her thirty-odd movies, to maybe five where she was putting in really solid performance, though I'll admit I haven't seen most of them. She really, really wanted people to know she could act. It was really very important to her. She wanted us to see beyond her curves, the sexy Marilyn who got her start as a pinup girl. This is one of those movies where you see the talent there. However, this was arguably the worst career possible for her despite that. She was not a stable woman, though of course healthier than her mother, and she was self-medicating, which only made things worse. She would be so out of her mind of pills and booze that she, well, never lived up to her full potential. Which is made more frustrating when you see hints of it in movies like this.

Eddie Forbes (Elisha Cook, Jr.) is the elevator man at a big hotel. There's a convention there, and one couple attending, Ruth (Lurene Tuttle) and Peter (Jim Backus) Jones, ask him to find a babysitter for them while they go to the evening's ceremonies. He produces a niece, Nell (Monroe). Meanwhile, Jed Towers (Richard Widmark) is having a fight with his girlfriend, Lyn Lesley (Ann Bancroft). He goes up to his room to fret, and he sees Nell across the courtyard. She's wearing some of Mrs. Jones's clothing and jewelry, one of the first signs we have that there's something not quite right about Nell. And then Jed comes over to talk to her, and the more they talk, the more clear it gets that there's a lot not quite right with Nell. Her uncle discovers too late that she wasn't as much better as they thought she was.

Okay, I find some of this a little improbable. I mean, okay, it was considered to be for the best that Nell come to a new city and lead a new life. But is having her babysit a total stranger's child the best way to make sure she's as normal as she's supposed to be? Mr. and Mrs. Ballew (Don Beddoe and Verna Felton), the nosy old couple across the hall, just happen to be there watching at the single most inconvenient moment and end up knocking at the door at the point where things look the worst for Nell. (Not that she's exactly an innocent victim of circumstances.) Mrs. Jones, likewise, comes upstairs at just the wrong moment, and so forth. On the other hand, better for Bunny (Donna Corcoran) that they do. It's also true that the improbabilities tend to be one of those things you notice looking back, not while watching.

Let us not let Marilyn Monroe as a dramatic actress overshadow the rest of the cast, however. This is the first film appearance of a young Anne Bancroft, after all, as sort of a singing cowgirl. She's not entirely necessary to the story, and I'm a little confused that the rooms seem to have intercoms which directly pipe down to the lounge so they can listen to her whenever they want to. Still, I think some of the places where they've put her in do work to make the story a little more interesting, and she does provide a little motivation for Jed. She's also helpful in the very last scene. And, hey, she's Anne Bancroft--do you need a reason? Okay, Richard Widmark's fun, too, and Elisha Cook, Jr., is always worth it. And, yes, I'm talking more about Anne Bancroft because I like me some Anne Bancroft. Still.

This is, for the most part, an understated movie, really. Some of the creepiest stuff is only shown in brief flashes, just enough to let us know what's going on. Nell is not a total ax-crazy. She's not planning to hurt anyone, even necessarily people who oppose her. She's a little too intense, and of course things may not work out the best for Bunny without someone stepping in to help. However, it's really not the most probable that Nell will go on some sort of psychopathic rampage. She seems, all things considered, more likely to hurt herself. Even there, she doesn't really seem to want to do that. In the end, she is not angry. She is not vicious. She is not someone to be scared of, and she'll never make a list of movie villains. She's hurt and confused and scared and sad. She is, in short, not all that different from Marilyn Monroe.
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