A pioneering movie blazes a trail later imitated but never bested.
Knock on Any Door (1949)
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A pioneering movie blazes a trail later imitated but never bested.
Attorney Andrew Morton ,Humphrey Bogart, who handles only property and probate cases goes against his law partners wishes to take up Nick's defense pro bono. Andrew feels that he owes him at least that since he holds himself responsible for the violent life that Nick had chosen years earlier. Six years ago Andrew turned the case of Nick's dad over to his law partner Ed Elkins, Curt Conway. He felt at the time that it was an open and shut case for old man Romono being found innocent. Elkins however blotched it up and caused the old man to be sentenced to a year in prison and died after four months behind bars. With Nick suddenly becoming the family bread-winner he drifted into a life of crime and worked himself up, over those six years, from petty theft to what he's now being accused of, the murder of a law enforcement officer.
Ahead of it's time, even though very dated now, "Knock on any Door" gets into the background of it's accused killer like a scalpel used by a neurosurgeon goes into the brain of his patient. The entire movie goes from Nick's trial to his past, through a series of flashbacks and shows how he got to where is is now; on trial for his life.
Handsome John Derek's first film and he does the best with the part that he has giving a three dimensional, unlike the usual cartoon-like, performance of the ruthless criminal Nick "Pretty Boy" Romono who has a heart of gold under all that barb wire that he covers himself up with. Humphrey Bogart gives his usual high quality performance as the lawyer Abdrew Morton who goes out of his way to try to save the "abused and troubled" young man from a one-way trip to the electric chair.
Very emotional and powerful ending sequence where Andrew gives his closing argument not just about his client's Nick Romono tormented and troubled past,as he pleads for the jury to spare his life, but also for the future. Andrews final summery is in preventing more Nick Romono's from evolving out of the depressed and hopeless crime infested neighborhoods that they come from and grow up in.
To prove his point, he takes the audience through a series of flashbacks into the dirty squalor and deprivation that brought about the killing in question
The film is a patently phony attempt at social commentary which simply didn't come off A sequel, "Let No Man Write My Epitaph," was made in 1960
One line of dialog from "Knock On Any Door," used as Derek's motto, was often quoted by young people in the fifties: "Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse."
A lawyer -- Bogart -- defends Nick Romano (John Derek), a good boy that turned into a juvenile delinquent when his childhood went bad when his father died...in part due to his lawyer's negligence (Bogart). The older Nick got, the more of a thug he became, although for a while, after he married a sweet girl, it seemed as if things were turning around for him. Eventually, Nick goes on trial for viciously killing a policeman. Bogart's legal strategy is to argue that the slums bred Nick into a criminal. Bogart has a field day in the courtroom scenes...one his strongest performances...in a film produced by his own production company.
Reviewer Bosley Crowther called the film "a pretentious social melodrama". Well, it is a social melodrama...a rather liberal one, though I'm not sure why Crowther called it "pretentious".
While Bogart's performance is dominant, John Derek's debut is very strong. Unfortunately, I'm not sure Derek ever lived up to this early promise. As he was nicknamed in this film, he was a pretty boy, and as Bogart reportedly told him, that would not be enough.
A fine film that might belong on your DVD shelf.
On the verge of becoming a partner in his big-time law firm, Morton is yanked out of his ivory tower and into the past by the need to defend accused murderer Pretty Boy Romano (John Derek), who he attempted to help when Romano was a petty teenage criminal. This is told in flashbacks with Romano repeating his credo: "live fast, die young, and have a good looking corpse". Probably the first film use of what has become a very tired expression. Morton carries a lot of guilty baggage into the trial. He blames himself for the imprisonment of Romano's father, an event that plunged the family into poverty and led to Romano's life of crime. Through the years he had tried to help Romano who had married a nice girl and attempted to go straight. But setbacks at work returned Romano to crime. Then his pregnant wife's suicide unhinged him and he killed a cop.
The "Knock on Any Door" expression refers to Morton's plea for leniency during the trial, as he blames the conditions in the slums and the affects of poverty for Romano's actions. Stating that behind any door are young men whose lives will be wasted unless they receive guidance and are assisted in becoming productive citizens.
"Knock on Any Door" provides a nice example of the unpredictability inherit in the film making business. A look at screenplay and cast would lead you to expect the film's strengths to be the Bogart-Derek scenes and the courtroom drama, with the romantic background story (told in flashbacks) a glaring weakness.
But the trial scenes which take up a substantial part of the film suffer from the usual procedural inaccuracies and are not particularly effective dramatically. Bogart pretty much plays his Captain Queeg character ("The Caine Mutiny") and spends more time whining than defending. The Bogart-Derek scenes are nothing special and there is no chemistry between the two actors. The narrative actually contradicts the theme of outrage over social inequities. The simplistic conclusions about social justice ring hollow and any sympathetic feelings toward Romano seem misplaced.
The production design is great. When combined with the haunting the black & white photography it makes for one of the best looking examples of the film noir genre.
What ultimately saves the film and actually makes it rather special is the romance between Romano and Emma (Allene Roberts). This unlikely character pairing (imagine James Dean's "Rebel" having a serious relationship with Melanie from "Gone With the Wind") somehow works as Roberts and Derek have a real chemistry together. And she introduces intangibles that are missing from the rest of the production. In addition, the relationship itself introduces a nice irony as it is the pressure to make Emma proud of him and to tangibly demonstrate his love that ultimately leads Romano back to crime.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
It's a throwback film to the Thirties, a time it was seen that all cures to society's ills was a better social program. That's the message that attorney Bogart was driving home to the jury, that for a few better breaks his client John Derek would be a solid citizen.
Actually during the course of the film, what we see of John Derek's life showed he had some opportunities and blew them. It also did show that the family had some rotten luck. A mixed message to say the least.
The film shows Bogart as an attorney and his involvement over the years with young John Derek who was making his screen debut. Derek has been arrested for killing a policeman after a bar stickup and he turns to Bogart for help. The first part of the film is Bogart's opening remarks to the jury at the murder trial and we see in flashback, Derek's life and how it intertwined with Bogart's.
The second half was the trial itself and the aftermath. George MacReady as the District Attorney probably gave the best performance in the movie. Another reviewer described MacReady as evil. Granted he usually is in his roles, but here he's just one very effective prosecutor.
Yet Knock On Any Door, confused as it is, does still raise some relevant questions. The scenes in the reform school are still being shown today and had their not been Code restrictions might have been more graphic. I only have to cite the movie Sleepers from a few years back.
Bogart fans will like it and John Derek certainly merited the nickname "pretty boy."
The movie is really just a showcase for the good-looking, young up and comer John Derek, as the heartthrob hoodlum. The camera likes him and he's an ok actor (he would later go on to be more effective in some B level westerns and crime stories) but he lacks depth and often comes across as plastic, doll-like. He's certainly no James Dean. Bogart is really the only other actor here of any note, and he mostly goes through the motions, realizing he can only do so much with a routine script.
One of those socially conscious pictures that is just too polite and well intentioned for its own good. Very minor and forgettable. Quite a disappointment from the great Nicholas Ray who made such an impression with movies like "THEY LIVE BY NIGHT", "IN A LONELY PLACE", and "PARTY GIRL".
I will not ruin this plot for those who have not had the time to see it, but I recommend this as one of those 'hard to find' movies from Bogart's large collection.
For a thriller, this is the perfect ingredients. You have a good leading man, and a story centered around crime. The ending is one in a million. I disagree with the first review on this page, in no way does this film try to "glorify a hoodlum" the message is something we need to think about today when we see all these gang bangers on the news murdering people. There's a way we can do without all of that. This movie, should be a warning why you should not do those kind of things.
John Derek is very attractive. It's easy to see how, in real life, he want on to marry three of the most beautiful women of the second half of the Twentieth Century. But he isn't very good. He seems to me sort of stiff. I don't buy him as a street hood, either.
The supporting cast, with the exception of the always fascinating George Macready, is pretty bland. When Derek meets the girl he falls in love with, she looks absolutely beautiful, in a very realistic way. But what worked for the Italian neo-realists doesn't work for Ray: We need some stronger supporting performances.
It's far from a bad movie. But, given what it could have been, it isn't very good, either. It's didactic, predicable, and too long. And that is a lethal combination.
"Knock on Any Door" is basically a standard courtroom drama picture with an iconic leading man narrating the whole story. It's fairly short, but sort of drawn out at the same time because this whole story of a demented young individual poisoned by the ravages of civilization has been told many times before and in better situations. Filmmakers like Otto Preminger and Sidney Lumet would later go on to prove that when it comes to courtroom dramas, it's better to relate to the killings through word of mouth rather than showing it either as a prologue or a flashback, for it just seems to get in the way and there is far more drama that can be generated by the actors relating to this event none of them have seen.
"Knock on Any Door" is a spotty and very uneven courtroom drama with very little to surprise and even less to move the audience. Even the famous and well-acted final sentencing speech done by Bogart does not strike with the impact that one should expect it to. But do not be confused. I am not bashing "Knock on Any Door". I am just simply saying that it's an underplayed, but nevertheless worthy way of spending exactly one hundred minutes of your time. Humphrey Bogart is great as usual, but the problem is that his character is a frankly uninteresting and two-dimensional defense lawyer. Bogart gives the character some charisma, but the writing just generates a recyclable hero. But do not be misled. I am not panning "Knock on Any Door." It works fine for what it is. But if you want to see Humphrey Bogart in a truly charismatic, well-written role, then rent "Casablanca." And if you want a truly well-realized courtroom drama, then set your sights on "Anatomy of a Murder" (1959) and/or "12 Angry Men" (1957).
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Humphrey Bogart gets top billing here but in reality the film is a showcase for John Derek who plays a thug who suffered from a rough upbringing. He eventually gets charged with the murder of a cop but he claims to be innocent and his lawyer (Bogart) believes him. Director Nicholas Ray does a good job with his duties but he's letdown by a pretty standard screenplay, which puts the main focus of the film on Derek's life story, which doesn't contain anything we haven't already seen in countless other movies. The film picks up towards the end when the trial start because Bogart takes center stage and delivers a very good performance. Derek is decent in his role but never strong enough to carry the film, which is what the screenplays asks of him. The only part of the flashback scenes that really work are the ones with Derek and his wife played by Allene Roberts. Roberts nearly steals the film and certainly out acts Derek in every scene. There's some nice dialogue including a great final speech by Bogart but there's just not enough originality here to make it work all the way through.
The now fatherless son named Nick Romano played by John Derek is lost without his father's financial and parental support and guidance and ends up running with the wrong crowd in a desperate means to make some quick money by robbing storefronts and mugging innocent working stiffs.
As the boy Nick Romano grows into a young man and learns his thieving trade in the school of hard "knocks" he runs into lawyer Andrew Morton who is burdened with a guilty conscience for the avoidable death of Nick's father while wrongfully in prison. So lawyer Andrew Morton attempts to keep an eye on the troubled youth Nick Romano but to no avail as Nick is eventually charged with the murder of an on duty police officer in Nicks neighborhood.
The story of how Nick Romano found himself on trial for the murder of a police officer is told rather boorishly through Andrew Morton's interpretation to twelve (12) jurors. Typically in movie scenes that involve a prosecuting and defense attorney(s) there is a heated exchange while the accused is on the stand. In this case though the endless barrage of questions that the prosecutor district attorney Kerman played by George Macready throws at the befuddled accused Nick Romano is so choreographed that I thought I was witnessing a high school debate and not a murder trial.
It was difficult to continue watching what seemed to be an ill prepared cast to handle a court room drama such that my mind kept wandering off as the film was unable to hold this viewers attention. Even Humphrey Bogart could not save this poorly delivered cookie cutter court room drama picture so the film title in my view would suggest that the vendors should please pass by my door as this dog bites with his honest review.
p.s. Bogie's best picture in my view was (1951) The African Queen with co-star Katharine Hepburn and this is a must see if you want to see Bogart at his very best. Please read my full review on The African Queen dated August 04th, 2016
This is not a new message from the movies and after World War II, the intent to clean up the streets of America became much more of a signature statement for the left-leaning political crowd as a way to counter the focus on international affairs. Bogart and director Nicholas Ray were certainly huge figures in that movement but Bogie's first time as producer and Ray's second feature film leave much to be desired. Most of the performances are either too stiff or too exaggerated. Only Bogie manages to maintain a collected and understated performance despite his unnecessary preaching at the end. Perhaps no other actor in history portrays hard-edged cynicism better than Bogart, which makes it all the more surprising that his character remains this way for much of the film only to jump on society in the final scene.
Ray's direction is nothing too special as he was still feeling his way around a movie set. He does, however, exhibit some interesting and striking visual tricks, foreshadowing future films to come.
Knock on any Door(1949) looks at issues on youth that were better developed in Luis Bunuel's The Young and the Damned(1950), and Nichloas Ray's superior Rebel Without a Cause(1954). The line "Live Fast, Die Young, Leave a good looking corpse" represents the emotions felt by teens during the early Post WW2 era. Line is telling of the cynicism and worthlessness felt by young people of that time. I wonder if this movie was an influence on Dennis Hopper's Out of the Blue(1980) because Raymond Burr would play a similar character as Humphrey Bogart.
It's easy not to feel sympathy for the character of Nick Romano, a person who is given more than enough opportunity to escape his past through the help of Andrew Morton and Adele, but he willfully refuses it.
Bogart is great, but even his performance can't help this movie.
Believe it or not, situation as happened in this movie happen in real life all the time.
Pretty Boy (a.k.a. Nick Romano, played by the perpetually puppy-dog eyed John Derek) grows up hardened and tough in a bad neighborhood on the Columbia Studios backlot. After years of jail terms and a stretch in a reform school, he returns home and falls for Pretty Girl (a.k.a. Emma, played to almost intoxicating sweetness by Allene Roberts). When he can't quit the life of crime, his pregnant wife commits suicide and Romano is put on trial for killing (or perhaps not killing) a cop. Most of his hardship is overseen by attorney Andrew Morton (Humphrey Bogart, the only lead actor who gives his role at least some intrigue and is therefore the only one who doesn't get the nickname treatment from yours truly), also from the wrong side of the tracks. He doesn't always quite believe that Romano is telling the truth and doesn't approve of his self-pitying ways (neither do I), but nonetheless he takes Romano's case and the battle is fought in the courtroom.
I believe that films should stand on their own two feet and not be compared to previous works, but since Nicholas Ray was so clearly trying to recapture the magic of his astonishing debut THEY LIVE BY NIGHT, it's hard not to compare the two; after all the love story between Pretty Boy and Pretty Girl directly parallels Bowie and Keechie's relationship. Both stories involve two young adults from the wrong side of the tracks, a criminal hardened by his tough life and the angelic girl who he marries and briefly finds inner peace with. I never thought that anyone could give a bad performance under Ray's direction, but while Farley Granger was no Montgomery Clift, John Derek is a dime-store version of Granger; at least Granger was able to give a sensitive and genuinely compelling performance under Ray's fatherly direction. Derek goes through the motions but not the emotions that Granger did so effortlessly. And even the ethereal Cathy O'Donnell was smart enough to allude to the toughness earned from years of living in the wrong place; Allenne Roberts captures none of that, only the unbelievable angelic nature. These characters don't echo the complexity of Ray's debut; they are whiny caricatures of people we're supposed to feel sorry for.
It's admirable that Humphrey Bogart would want to make a film about social injustice for his first project as a producer (this film was financed by his independent production company Santana), and he even lets most of the light shine on Pretty Boy. However, given Derek's poor performance and Bogart's coy cynicism, his golden integrity just hidden beneath the surface, and his brooding on-screen presence (as preachy as his closing argument is, it is well acted by Bogart), I wished the movie had been more about him, I wished the script not been as black-and-white as Burnett Guffey's cinematography. In trying to cry out for justice, the film just annoyed me with its condescending attitude and simplified message my six-year-old cousin could've caught.
I recommend two Nicholas Ray films that are a much more stimulating and thought- provoking experience: the first is THEY LIVE BY NIGHT for reasons already stated. The second is his masterful IN A LONELY PLACE, his second film with Humphrey Bogart--and in this one he *is* in the center stage, featuring probably the most complex and darkest role of his career. I guess one good thing came out of KNOCK ON ANY DOOR: Bogart and Ray, who came from different ways of approaching their jobs, needed one film to get to know each other, how the other one worked. Ray once said that during this film he "took the gun away from Bogart's hands," and by the time they re-teamed for the second and last time, their professional relationship had ripened to friendship. Bogart trusted Ray enough to give a nakedly vulnerable performance in a film which you *SHOULD* look into.
'Knock On Any Door' may not be a courtroom drama film classic, it's not one of Bogart's best films and it will never be one of my favourite films any time soon. Can understand the criticisms against it, criticisms also shared by even those who liked it. There is a good deal to admire though and its sincerity and good intentions cannot be doubted. If asked whether 'Knock on Any Door' is worth seeing, my answer would be yes while not enthusiastically recommending it.
As said, 'Knock On Any Door's' criticisms are understandable. It is on the heavy-handed side, especially the final speech, which was clearly intended to be powerful and strike a chord but while thought-provoking and done with good intentions it over-emphasised its moralising too much. Not all the courtroom scenes are as compelling as ought, some are somewhat stagy and for a talk-heavy film the pace dragged a bit.
John Derek is acceptable as the lead but could have delved into this very demanding role deeper, part of me felt that he could have brought out more sympathy. That way, the character would have been more rootable and one would be more understanding as to why anybody would defend him. The film does try to do that but because the character is not explored enough it doesn't quite come off.
Cannot fault the rest of the performances though. Bogart is splendid and commands the screen whenever he appears. As does Macready, his pulls no punches ruthlessness being quite intimidating to watch. Allene Roberts is a long way from being the bland love interest, she is very charming and likeable. Her chemistry with Derek and the more romantic-oriented scenes were a big surprise of film, was expecting to bring down the film but the chemistry was actually sweet and on an emotional level their scenes were more investable.
Nicholas Ray directs more than competently if perhaps unexceptionally. Visually, 'Knock on Any Door' is a beautifully stylish noir-ish feel. Enough of the script is thought-provoking and sincere and some of the courtroom drama does compel and doesn't make the outcome too obvious. The characters do have some meat to them and regardless of whether what is said and explored here holds up or not now judging it by that time's standards it is very interesting.
Overall, didn't love it but didn't hate it certainly. 6/10 Bethany Cox