Marilyn as serious actress: Don’t Bother to Knock (Roy Ward Baker, 1952)


Though the film noir Don’t Bother to Knock is far from the most famous of Marilyn Monroe’s movies, it’s a fine dramatic vehicle for her. It follows several of the occupants and staff of a New York hotel. Jed Towers (Richard Widmark, no stranger to noir) is a pilot who has been dumped by the hotel’s resident singer, Lyn Lesley (Anne Bancroft, making her film debut), for being too cold-hearted. On the rebound, Jed starts up a flirtation with Nell Forbes (Monroe), who is supposed to be child-minding for the night, but finds that she is deeply wrapped up in her past troubles.

I’d like to be able to see Monroe as just another actress, but it’s difficult, considering she’s one of the most iconic individuals of the twentieth century. Still, I think she does a good job as Nell. She is believably disturbed, and sometimes downright frightening. Her familiar vulnerability suits the role, and she certainly makes Nell sympathetic.

Clocking in at 76 minutes, Don’t Bother to Knock doesn’t waste time.  It’s thoughtful in how much it reveals about the characters, and when, and it ties them all together well. Despite using barely any non-diegetic music, it skilfully builds in tension as the extent of Nell’s mental illness becomes clear. Interesting as it is to see Monroe in this role, Don’t Bother to Knock is an entertaining little film noir in its own right.


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