johnlink ranks WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR (1967)

I like to think of myself as someone knowledgeable about film. Then I DVR a film only because it is advertised as the debut of Harvey Keitel. Once I start it, I realize it is also the debut of some minor director named Martin Scorsese. Go figure. The more you think you know, the more you realize you don’t know.


I watched WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR (1967) on 3.19.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR is clearly a picture made by a young man, Martin Scorsese, clearly influenced by the French New Wave. He cares not for linear storytelling, a 1:1 ratio of reality and visualization, or clear editing. Instead, camera angles are wild, characters are emotionally controlled, and the story serves the theme.

Theoretically, this is a love story which takes place between a young wise guy J.R. (Harvey Keitel) and a girl he meets randomly, we only know as Girl (Zina Bethune). They talk movies, sex before marriage, and more movies. J.R. clearly serves as Scorsese’s avatar; he is a young man fascinated by film and movie stars and the meaning of masculine power.

Interestingly, the conflict isn’t only on screen. The inexperienced Scorsese was forced to add a fantasy scene so that the film could be marketed as a ‘sexploitation’ flick. This is a scene which is shot with a bit of winking disdain, the climax is cinematic (both in terms of camera movement and editing) rather than personal or sexual. This raw filmic sequence is counter-balanced by an earlier intimate and sensual scene between J.R. and the Girl which critics of the visceral WOLF OF WALL STREET might suggest is a tool in Scorsese’s toolbox which he has long since lost along the way.

This is a film which condemns the sort of unchecked masculinity Scorsese would sometimes exploit in films like GOODFELLAS. The character of J.R. is mostly likable, though a later scene with the girl marks him as the worst kind of masculine: unsympathetic, egoic, and obtuse. He follows this scene of revelation by getting drunk. Only in a state of intoxication can he realize how wrong he’s been. It is sophisticated thematic work, and a sequence which predicts a director who would make a career showing us imperfect characters.

Keitel’s performance is splendid. There is nothing artificial or forced in his portrayal. The guy we see here, with Keitel at 28, is a guy we can absolutely see becoming Mr. White or The Wolf. It is amazing to think that there is as much time between Keitel’s debut and RESERVOIR DOGS as there has been between Tarantino’s original crime flick and the present day. But then, well, we’re all getting older. Bethune, incidentally, is wonderful here as well. Her mix of confidence and vulnerability are keys to who she is, and the arc of the story is hers as much as it is J.R.’s.

The final scene is crushing. We don’t get what we want, but it the absolutely right choice for the film. J.R.’s wrongness is frustrating in its obvious egomaniacal lack of maturity. It speaks to a complex world, even if it is a world we don’t want to see (something Scorsese would later master with TAXI DRIVER).

This is a script which would never be produced today. The film starts light and conversationally and becomes more serious as it draws on. We live in a modern film era of plot and spectacle, rather than a 60s era of style and character. The film meanders despite its short runtime, off set by Keitel’s performance and a surprisingly potent soundtrack. It does not lack entertainment, but sees entertainment as secondary to substance. WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR absolutely succeeds in being what it wants to be. In it’s thematic maturity we see the budding filmmaker we would all come to know, simply. as Marty.





~ by johnlink00 on March 20, 2014.

5 Responses to “johnlink ranks WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR (1967)”

  1. When I saw this pop up in my reader I thought you watched “Someone’s Knocking at the Door” – a MISERABLE piece of shit from 2009. Thank God you didn’t….

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