—Definitely Deserves a Watch—
Bogie Film Fix:
Director: Nicholas Ray
An attorney (Humphrey Bogart) who escaped a history of crime and poverty must defend a young hoodlum (John Derek) accused of murdering a policeman.
What I Thought
First of all, before you watch this film, don’t read any of the reviews or synopses on the web. A few of them actually give away the ending in the first paragraph, and it always bugs me a little bit that people think they can get away with that because it’s a “classic” movie.
Knock on Any Door was the first movie produced by Bogart’s film production company, Santana, and I would have to say that it was a great film for Bogart’s crew to start with. Based on the bestselling book by Willard Motley, Bogart handpicked Director Nicholas Ray after being impressed by his directorial debut in They Live by Night. It’s a partnership that would go on to produce one of my favorite Bogart films, In a Lonely Place, and Ray would later helm one of cinema’s most loved classics, Rebel Without a Cause.
There have been reviews written that accuse this film of doing some over-the-top grandstanding, preaching on the dangers of social injustice. I couldn’t disagree more. How our country treats the lower class is most definitely not a black and white issue, and I think Director Ray makes sure to leave us on an authentic moment of uncertainty at the end of the film. People that we might consider “bad guys” aren’t always bad guys. Heroes we look up to sometimes make life and death mistakes. Knock on Any Door is less a movie about our country’s war on poverty, and more a film about our societal struggle with the flawed criminal justice system.
Although I’m not giving it a perfect score on the “Bogie Film Fix,” as much of film centers around John Derek (and rightly so), I would say this that one’s a must see for anyone hankering for some classic older Bogart.
The Bogart Factor
Bogart’s wonderful here as attorney Andrew Morton. I’ve read more than a few blogs and reviews that compare his final courtroom scene here to his ending moments as Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny. I would agree with that on a lot of levels, but the role of Andrew Morton is much more restrained as it builds towards the big speech at the end. And while both men are essentially breaking down emotionally, Morton’s scene is more of an emotional breakthrough than a breakdown. Morton’s scene is one of stark realization about the hopelessness sometimes created by the judicial process. Queeg’s madness is more personal, and any realizations of it are much more self-reflective.
Bogart has some great scenes as he attempts to mentor his young client, and it’s a lot of fun to see him battling it out in the courtroom with the District Attorney (George Macready) in a battle of wits as they attempt to sway the jury over the young defendant’s life.
Quiet, reflective, occasionally torn and brooding, Bogart plays this one close to the chest and it works. I loved the fact that he didn’t initially want to take the case, but was sort of guilted into it by his girlfriend (Candy Toxton). This worked in the film’s favor as at several points, Bogart’s reluctance is conveyed through the doubt he carries about his client.
Both Bogart and John Derek are strong in this film, and it’s well worth your time to check it out based on their performances alone.
John Derek plays Nick Romano, the young man from the wrong side of the tracks who is accused of murder. This is Derek’s film, as he’s front and center for most of the scenes, and he handles it well. Derek’s able to give us the emotional rollercoaster of someone who’s got the potential to accomplish anything, yet because of bad luck and poor decisions, he can’t seem to keep his life on the straight and narrow. I’m not all that familiar with Derek, but I’d love to see if he has another role as powerful as this one.
Allene Roberts plays Derek’s love interest, Emma. It’s not a huge role, but she does a great job with it, and her side story with Derek is one of the more haunting parts of the film. Director Ray does a good job of showing us the tragedy of a young couple’s relationship going sour after so much initial promise.
George Macready is PERFECTLY cast as Assistant District Attorney Kerman. From the scar on his cheek to his ruthless badgering of witnesses, Macready is the standout scene stealer in this film and I’m anxious to check out his other work. Anyone who can get me to hate them for an hour and a half before finally garnering my sympathy is a solid actor in my book.
Candy Toxton (as Susan Perry) plays Bogart’s love interest, social worker Adele Morton. It’s a small role, but she makes the most of her scenes. I bought the fact that Toxton was able to convince Bogart to take the case based on his own past indiscretions. While I wish that she’d had a little more meat in the script, I can’t complain as she does her supporting job well.
Classic Bogie Moment
Bogart was great at emotional breakdowns onscreen. While his last courtroom scene here has a more sympathetic spin on it than his final explosions in The Caine Mutiny and In a Lonely Place, it’s a real testament to Bogart’s skill that he could so convincingly show such a powerful emotional investment in his roles. Bogart was superb at playing characters that were forced, often against their will, to live in the “gray areas” of life.
The Bottom Line
Not a perfect film, but a wonderful showcase for Bogart and Derek with lots of great tension.