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"Who's That Knocking At My Door?" (1968) is the kind of film where you see
it once you'll want to see it again, just to see what you didn't
The protagonist is played by Harvey Keitel as J.R., an autobiographical
role based loosely on Scorsese's strict Catholic upbringing. And many
symbolic Catholic references there are such as the Virgin Mary mini statue
reflection in the mirror watching Harvey Keitel's JR as he embraces "The
Young Girl" played by Zina Bethune.
Scorsese is so intelligent and inventive with his scenes here; crafty artsiness at its best (like the one where J.R. is having sex with the "broad" in a dream fantasy, but then afterwards flips his cards towards her rejecting her as a sin; she's not a nice virgin who would be a good wife and mother for J.R.; she's just a whore, a "broad", as we listen to The Doors' song 'The End' finish). Marty's own personal style was established in this early film.
Harvey Keitel was 29-years-old when Martin Scorsese's [who was 25] "Who's That Knocking At My Door?" debuted in 1968. This was a full-length feature debut for both actor Keitel and director Scorsese. It was interesting to see this for the first time recently after I had already seen most of Scorsese's later films. His classic trade marks such as the "freeze frame, slow-motion, and classic rock tracks playing on the soundtrack" are all utilized effectively in this early gem. ("Easy Rider" is always the film that is credited as being the originator of playing classic rock tunes on the soundtrack, but "Who's That Knocking At My Door?" wasn't seen by many until it received wide release in 1970, almost three years after it was made.)
For any film school student or aspiring director/screenwriter this is a must see. Mr. Scorsese financed this film on a tight budget. I read somewhere that his film professor from NYU helped him finance it. From the beginning somebody somewhere knew Marty had the talent and could make a good picture. He created a wonderful film; using his own life experience for the story he was able to concoct a great, interesting and personal film. His "Mean Streets" (1973) is a much greater and even more personal film. But "Who's That Knocking At My Door?" was the beginning.
I'm not Catholic but I certainly learn a lot about Catholicism when I watch a Scorsese flick. For instance, take the scene where "The Young Girl" is making dinner at J.R.'s place, she lights up what appears to be just a candle. But to J.R. it is a "Holy Candle" and makes her put it back and replace it with another one. There are many classic scenes in this film, but I don't want to spoil it for you.
Directed by Martin Scorsese. Edited By Thelma Schoonmaker (who would go on to edit almost all of Scorsese's later films). Starring Harvey Keitel as J.R. 90 minutes.
I am an unabashed admirer of Martin Scorsese's work, and his first feature
did not disappoint. Filmed on practically no budget, this movie uses a
nonlinear approach to storytelling that predates "Pulp Fiction" by some 25
years. One can also see a precursor of Scorsese's later cinematic technique,
and just a hint of his nightmare-world view of New York that is so apparent
in his later works "Taxi Driver," "After Hours" and "Bringing Out the Dead."
Scorsese's trademark—finding the perfect piece of contemporary music
for each scene—is also quite apparent here.
As the traditionally-minded J.R., the young Keitel turns in a riveting performance in his first film appearance, as a working-class New Yorker torn between his cultural norms and his love for an intelligent, independent woman. Bethune is today better known as a dancer and humanitarian, but as "The Girl" she is utterly convincing and nothing short of ravishing, with a presence both ethereal and self-assuredly erotic. The meeting of the two characters is really a meeting of the traditional with the modern--something much on people's minds in 1968 when this film was made. It's interesting that in some places this movie was retitled "I Call First"—the gist of the conflict between the lovers. J.R. receives a piece of information about The Girl's past, one that he cannot put into perspective given his macho set of social norms. Scorsese throws in a dash of the Catholic morality and male-centeredness current at the time, and we have a memorable exploration of the place of culture and religion in determining who and how much we love.
If you're a Scorsese fan, this film is a must-rent. If you're uninitiated, see a couple of his later films first, then go back to this one for a look at two future giants—Scorsese and Keitel—on their first project, as well as an excellent performance by Bethune, who should certainly have had more featured roles following this one.
Filmed over years apparently, this early M. Scorsese New York tale
involving young dudes being typically out of it is interesting in the
scenes with Keitel and the girl (Z. Bethune), but the buddy scenes tend
to drag on and semi-bore. A 5 out of 10. Best performance = Zena
Harvey Keitel has always been interesting and believable and it's great to see him in a lead (pre-MEAN STREETS) and Ms. Bethune is very touching and human. All Scorsese fans should track this down even though it's not that great. The DVD has a semi-commentary from Marty which is unusual! It comes in the recent DVD set of Martin Scorsese and worth a look! Harry Northrup has a small role (MEAN STREETS, TAXI DRIVER).
WHO'S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR? (3+ outta 5 stars)
Early feature film by the now-legendary Martin Scorsese... it sort of sprawls all over the place... melding all kinds of weird artsy gimmicks and camera styles... but the central relationship between Harvey Keitel and the pretty blonde girl he meets and falls in love with on the Staten Island Ferry (Zina Bethune) keeps the movie's momentum going, even when it veers off into interesting but sometimes pointless tangents. If you thought Quentin Tarantino invented the character of the movie geek who seeks to impress the woman of his dreams by rambling on with movie trivia... well, this movie will set you straight. You will also see hints of Scorsese's later masterpieces ("Mean Streets", "Goodfellas") in embryonic form. I hadn't seen this movie in years... but just saw the new DVD version and was amazed at how good it was.
Who's That Knocking At My Door is primarily of historical interest, more an exercise in style in this case a New York 60s spin on nouvelle vague and Italian neo-realism than a work of substance. Expanded from a film school project, Scorsese's feature debut is typically light on plot, counterpointing Harvey Keitel's Mean Streets-lite time-wasting with the boys from the old neighbourhood with his failed romance with Zina Bethune that offers the possibility something better. There's more energy than insight and the passage of time has dulled it's edge, but it's not without interest, especially in the way that at times Keitel seems to be playing Scorsese, never more so than in the scene where he picks up Bethune by talking about The Searchers after seeing a picture of the Duke in her copy of Cahiers du Cinema.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Who's That Knocking at My Door" is Martin Scorsese's first feature,
and what looks and feels like an exercise in style, so typical of
students' works gradually turns into an impressive work with a powerful
intensity and very promising sensitivity, something I found lacking in
Godard's acclaimed 'New Wave' opener "Breathless". (Godard never made
me care about his characters, and for me, always personified the 'all
flash and no substance' director' syndrome.)
In "Who's That Knocking", the substance is here and carries the very essence of what would define the best of Scorsese's body of work. The film is not perfect of course, it has some technical flaws on the editing and narrative structure, but there is a heart beating inside, a sense of nervousness perfectly conveyed by a tormented 25-year old student and magnificently embodied by a young Harvey Keitel, as J.R., a New York Italian-American. This nervousness is very palpable in the editing, during some introspective close-ups where you could almost read in the mind of J.R., torn apart between his religious beliefs, his street-wise friends, his passion for John Wayne and Western movies, and his love for the Girl, played by Zina Bethume. Marty doesn't intend to make his film a sort of existential cry, but by depicting a realistic slice of Italian-American male youth's life, it's a part of himself that he reveals through the character of J.R. And Harvey Keitel, instead of taking his first acting job for granted, and sort of act according to a script, transcends his character and provide him a sort of boyish hidden innocence.
That's the conflict that invades the soul of J.R., he is a kid who tries to act like a man, and unaware that there is a profound immaturity that undermines his transition to the adult age. When he meets the Girl in the ferry, it's interesting that their first discussion deals with John Wayne. J.R. and his friends idolize John Wayne and all the masculine archetypes of the Western genre: Monty Clift, outlaws, antiheroes etc. This fandom echoes Belmondo's character in "Breathless" who was a fan of Humphrey Bogart. Being a fan is essential to understand the roots of youth's behavior, and as a 30-year old guy, I remember myself talking about Michael Corleone from "The Godfather" with the same passion as J.R., when I was his age. We all need models, and it seems that anti-heroic figures are the most likely to ignite the passion in youth's hearts, as a way to reconcile them with their status in life. They feel like men, just because they bring a gun or girls in the house. It's all about accessories, never behavior, all about imitation, never action.
J.R., as the hero, is more detached from his friends, more likely to 'get off the car'. His interaction with the Girl is very sweet and could lead to a beautiful romance, until she reveals that she was raped before. J.R. 's doesn't believe her, victim of the cruel dichotomy that put girls either in the 'nice' or 'broads' category, something that, as a Mediterranean, I could relate to. The Girl leaves J.R. with dignity, the rest is left unsaid, but thanks to Scorsese's intimate directing, we understand everything that goes in J.R.'s mind. The episode with the girls who come at the house plays a pivotal role in his psychological journey, with the famous "I Call First" moment (which gave its second title to the film). I could relate to this childish reaction, because it's so typical of young male behavior, mixing game (then childhood, immaturity) to adult situations (kissing girls). J.R. refuses to play any selection game because he knows he's going to lose, which happens, and then in the most childish way, sabotages the whole party. This scene is shocking and real to its core, like when J.R.'s buddy reacts violently toward the girl when he see his neck bleeding.
The incident with the girl highlights the fact that he rape might have happened and that the Girl is not a broad. After knocking at her door, she opens, she's visibly glad to see him, so is he. They kiss, they're tender and sweet, he asked her for marriage, and says he forgives her. The rest of the scene reveals that the road is still long for J.R to grow some maturity, and he still handles what could be a beautiful relationship with the same immaturity that made him say "I Call First" and the violence that inspire such words as 'whore'. But this violence hides deeper insecurities, these guys are lost, and need models only to forget their own mediocrity, incapable to get over their devotion to the Mother's sacred figure. Their Oedipal condition prevents them to be real men by 'killing the father'. J.R. needs these models too, God, the Virgin Mary, a mother, therefore a wife. He needs to marry the Girl not because he's a man who wants to be a man, but a son who needs a maternal figure. The scene where he can't have sex with the Girl while he's more relaxed with 'broads' (a scene far from being gratuitous) shows that there is a thin line between marriage and sexuality in his mind.
Like his buddies, J.R. can't admit that he's castrated by his own background and can only become a man by rejecting a deep part of his macho culture, by stopping to idolize their mothers so much that they would vent their anger on girls, for not being like their mothers. That's the irony of J.R. condition and Marty's dilemma that would inspire a never-ending feeling of guilt. Or maybe the quest for redemption just started? After all, J.R. could as well be a younger Charlie from "Mean Streets". "Who's That Knocking at My Door?", made after 4 years of struggle, is the birth of a new talent that would finally implode its soul to the face of the world.
"Who's that knocking at my door" is along with "Boxcar Bertha" the most
unknown picture of the Italian-American genius Scorsese. Make no
mistakes: it's nothing like a masterpiece and it's no surprise that
almost no one know about this movie, but here we got some of the
constants in Marty's cinema: the street talking, the violence, the
outsiders... Those things that "mean streets" dealt about... This was
Martin Scorsese's debut and so it was for his friend Harvey Keytel who
plays a chauvinist-bad tempered young man.
So, this is a movie that I recommend to those who really love Scorsese's work and wanna know about his origins.
*My rate: 6/10
they make this film seem as in its just an art-house good college try for martin scorsese, who'd become one of the best directors (who has never yet gotten an oscar) of our time - but i think this film is fantastic on its own. i really can't explain it much except that watching this movie is like reading kerouac, you'll either love it (get it) or hate it (not understand it)...
a definite must for all scorsese fans. runs much like a student film. Use of music is still very ruff in this film. Not nearly as effective as in mean streets. Many of the same ideas scorsese will later work out in mean streets. Harvey Keitel's performance is powerful. Filmed mostly on Elizabeth St where scorsese grew up and his childhood apartment. highly recommended
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Who's That Knocking At My Door is the very first movie that my all time
favorite film director Martin Scorsese directed. And for being his
first, it is also outstanding! This movie is an outstanding delight,
Scorsese's first is terrific! Considering that this is a Martin
Scorsese movie, I knew that it was going to be good, but I didn't know
it would be this good. Martin Scorsese is a man who just cannot fail
when it comes to making movies, I have seen a lot of his movies, and
they have all been extraordinary! This movie is one of the best movies
of 1967, and so therefore, it is one of the greatest movies that I have
ever seen in my whole entire life! Martin Scorsese is a genius, he
never, ever, ever, ever fails to astonish me with his mastery at
directing! I was not disappointed with this movie at all, it was what I
would expect it to be, a masterpiece directed by Martin Scorsese!
Calling this movie a great start for Martin Scorsese is an
understatement, it is more than just a great start from a great film
director, it is a great movie!
Harvey Keitel delivers a great performance as J.R., an Itailian-American who falls in love with this one girl, but things turn sour when his religious beliefs catch up with him. Being a movie that is loaded with excellent acting, excellent directing, and excellent everything, Who's That Knocking At My Door fulfills all expectations of a Martin Scorsese movie. I can't think a single negative thing to say about this movie, not one negative thing at all, not one single thing! However, for Martin Scorsese, his career was only just beginning. He later would go on to direct masterpieces like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, and The Departed. Mr. Scorsese. for your directorial debut, you did an extraordinary job!
So all in all, this movie is yet another masterpiece directed by Martin Scorsese. If you love Scorsese, then you should see this movie, because if it wasn't for this, where would all of those classics like Goodfellas be? This movie is truly an important moment in the history of movies, it marks the start of a genius film director's career. I am not exaggerating about this at all, see it for yourself, it's incredible, it is an unforgettable masterpiece that you are really going to love! Since this is a Martin Scorsese movie, when you watch this, be prepared to see the absolute best from a genius! Watch and enjoy this movie, because you really will love it.
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