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Don’t Bother to Knock


Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

     I have very recently changed my tune about Marilyn Monroe after reading a post on Backlots about how she was horribly typecast into all those roles I hate. Although my better understanding of the star does make me more accepting of her work, I still do not expect to pursue her dumb blonde, sex goddess type roles. Don’t Bother to Knock is not one of those despite what the poster might suggest. Monroe had already begun to be blocked into the aforementioned roles but got a great opportunity with this flick to show a more intense side.

     She plays Nell, who at the outset shows shades of the ignorant dames we often saw Monroe embody. The girl is niece to an elevator operator in a hotel who has arranged for Nell to babysit a 7-year-old girl while her parents attend an event at the hotel’s ballroom. She comes on her uncle Eddie’s (Elisha Cook Jr.) recommendation, so the man takes a particular interest in making sure all goes well. After reading the girl, Bunny (Donna Corcoran), a story, Nell demands she go to sleep and we see that she is not necessarily fond of children. Left alone in the adjoining room, Nell ends up trying on the mother’s diamond bracelet and earings and before we know it she’s wearing the woman’s dressing gown.
     Meanwhile, Richard Widmark playing Jed is in another part of the hotel that wraps around and allows his room to be opposite where Nell is situated. He has just received a breakup letter from his girlfriend, the hotel singer, and so is intrigued when he spots Nell across the courtyard. He rings her room and the two get to chatting. Next Jed is in her room and Nell’s behavior becomes all the more strange. When Jed speaks about being a pilot, a fog seems to enter Nell’s gaze as she starts insisting that he did not die over the Pacific in 1945. She has transposed Jed in the place of her dead fiancée and so kisses him and he reciprocates. Bunny walks in on this resulting in considerable anger from Nell as the little girl reveals that the woman is wearing her mother’s things and is not who she’s been telling Jed she is. After a tantrum, Jed invites the girl into the main room. She gazes happily outside from the window sill and, with Nell’s hand on her back, looks like she might fall at any moment.
     The remainder of the evening is marked by Nell’s increasing disdain for the little girl, the intrusion of Eddie and some nosy neighbors into the goings on of room 809, and Jed’s constant questioning of why he remains in the room. Nell’s psychosis reaches a frightening climax that ultimately mends Jed’s relationship with the singer.
     Monroe’s beauty here is purposefully diminished –as much as one can with a looker like she– by a darker hair color and plain, conservative dress. She is a meek character to start, but the anger she showers on the little girl show a darker side perpetuated by her confusion over Jed’s identity. Don’t Bother to Knock could easily have become a campy thriller, but Monroe restrains her performance so that only the subtlest image of an off-center personality shows through. This really was a thrilling picture that consistently sets the audience on edge. I found myself nervous just seeing Nell in the mother’s jewels, fearing she would be discovered. Little did I know how much more criminal the activities would become.
  • Don’t Bother to Knock is set for 7:30 a.m. ET Nov. 26 on TCM.
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