Who’s That Knocking at my Door (1971) Martin Scorsese

 

who's that knocking

I had just returned from a year in Vietnam, home on leave for about a month before going to Fort Polk in Louisiana, when I read a review about a film by a young filmmaker I had never heard of before. His name was Martin Scorsese. The film, Who’s That Knocking at My Door, was playing at the Carnegie Hall Cinema, a theatre located beneath the famed Carnegie Hall. What attracted me to the film after reading the review was its Italian-American background, something familiar to me. Scorsese grew up in this environment and knew it well, as did I.

Carneige Hall Cinema

The film is about J.R. (Harvey Keitel), a young Italian-American whose world consists of hanging out most of the day with the guys in his Little Italy neighborhood in New York where he dates girls, sleeps with “broads” and is surrounded in a world full of Catholic guilt.   In J.R.’s world you don’t marry “broads,” they whores. You marry girls who you date, go to the movies with and eventually marry. Then you have sex. It’s the Madonna-whore complex, the good girl is put on a pedestal and the whore is put in bed. There is no in-between.

J.R. likes movies, his favorites being Rio Bravo and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, both films notably starring macho John Wayne. J.R. stills lives at home with his parents in an apartment filled with religious symbols. He spends most of his time drinking, looking at girlie magazines, hanging with his crew, listening to top 40 radio. He seems to have no job yet never lacks money. Still, J.R. is looking for some kind of direction in his life unlike his friends. He finds it one day on the Staten Island Ferry when he meets a girl (Zina Bethune). She’s different from other girls he has known. A college graduate, she’s an independent, free spirited woman. She lives in her own apartment, reads and watches little, if any, television. She introduces him to a life outside the boundaries of his Little Italy neighborhood. They not only listen to music and watch movies but talk passionately about them.who-s-that-knocking-at-my-door-i-call-first-10-06-2009-08-09-1968-5-g

 For the first time in his life, J.R. discovers passion and romance with a woman instead of cheap thrills. One day, they are up in J.R.’s parents’ bedroom. A room filled with religious artifacts. The girl wants to make love but J.R,. consumed by the religious imagery, and his narrow minded philosophy of good girls versus broads refuses to go all the way. He tells her he respects her and they should wait until they marry.

Soon after, the girl (she has no name in the film) reveals to J.R. that she is not a virgin. She tells him how she was raped by a previous boyfriend. J.R. is devastated by this news. He cannot cope with this development. In his mind she is no longer the good girl, she’s just another broad. Unsettled, confused, he goes out for some heavy drinking with his friends. But J.R.’s Catholicism taught him that even Jesus forgave sinners. He shows up at her apartment. Uneasily, he tells her that he forgives her and is still willing to marry her. She tells him to go home. She doesn’t need to be forgiven like she was trash being given a second chance.

Rejected, J.R. finds himself at his church seeking solace.whosthatknocking600

Scorsese’s themes are all there in this first film (guilt, obsession, male camaraderie). Even some of his camera trademarks like slow motion are already there as is Scorsese’s mother Catherine in one of many appearances she made in her son’s films.Who's_That_Knocking_at_My_Door_film_poster

Who’s That Knocking at my Door was the second in a scheduled trilogy. The first was supposed to be a film called Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which never got passed the script stage, with J.R. in high school at the time. The third film became Mean Streets where the J.R. character morphed into Charlie. Scorsese’s first film had its premiere at the 1967 Chicago Film Festival. At the time, it was called I Call First. Roger Ebert saw it at the festival and praised it highly.

It took a few years before Scorsese was able to get a distribution deal and then it was with a small time distributor of sex films. In order to secure the deal, Marty was forced to add a nude scene to the film. Scorsese and Keitel flew to Amsterdam where they filmed the required scene. Besides the obvious nudity, Keitel, due to the years in between,  does look a bit older than he does in the rest of the film.600full-who's-that-knocking-at-my-door_-screenshot

 Though rough around the edges, Who’s That Knocking at My Door is an amazing debut  by one our greatest cinematic treasures.

This article is my contribution to the 1967 in Film Blogathon. For more great articles check out the link below.

http://silverscreenings.org/2014/05/07/announcing-the-1967-in-film-blogathon/ 

25 comments on “Who’s That Knocking at my Door (1971) Martin Scorsese

  1. I have never heard of this one. I will need to check this out. Great review

    >

    Like

  2. le0pard13 says:

    Wonderful review, John. And ‘the Madonna-whore complex’, Catholic-guilt trip wasn’t limited to Italian-Americans. We (Mexican-Americans) had a good bit of that, too. Saw plenty of it in my high school (’69-’72). Great look at this.

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      I’m sure it was with most Catholic ethnic groups. Back in the day, the nuns and priests would pound it into you for the slightest infraction. You were going to hell and It never leaves you. It is always in the back of your mind As George Carlin said, and I am paraphrasing, about being impure in mind and deed. “The great thing about being Catholic is all you had to do was think about doing a sin and wham you sinned! You did not have to worry about doing it and getting caught! I miss George Carlin, speaker of truth.

      Like

  3. Loved your review, John — I have never heard of this movie. I certainly would like to now, though. How interesting about Scorcese having to add in the sex scene! I wonder whatever happened to Zina Bethune.

    Like

  4. […] Shadows & Satin – Wait Until Dark Destroy All Fanboys – The War Wagon Twenty Four Frames – Who’s That Knocking At My Door? […]

    Like

  5. geelw says:

    Excellent review. I love that you were around when this first ran, as it adds more to the review than had it been seen by someone younger who might try and look at this with a more modern eye. Also, off topic, but that banner made me smile, as I remember the Baronet and Coronet as I saw quite a few films there back in the day before those super multiplexes took over Manhattan.

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      Thanks! Yeah, I spent a lot of time at those two theatersalso and the Cinema 1 and 2 that were right next to them. I took that photo back in 1976.

      Like

      • geelw says:

        The Cinema 1 and 2 are still around (with a third theater, so it’s Cinema 1 2 3 now), but I hear it’s in kind of ratty shape these days. I’m up in the Bronx where we used to have a bunch of movie theaters (there were five or six close to me at one point), but we’re down to two the last time I looked around and the last one here is being turned into a T.J. Maxx or some such other retail spot that’s not needed at all because we already have too many shops around here…

        Like

      • John Greco says:

        I read about the lack of theaters in The Bronx in the NY TImes a few days ago. It’s a shame. Those were all great theaters back in the day. My biggest thrill was after watching THE FRONT with Woody Allen. The crowd was filing out and suddenly standing in front of me was John Lennon and Yoko Ono! Only in New York!

        Like

      • geelw says:

        I need to read that article in the Times, as I’d been slowly working on a piece about the demise of the last theater here in Parkchester for a while. There was no notice – it was playing first-run films one day, then shut the next. A lot of people thought it was taken over by one of the bigger chains and was getting a renovation, but nope.

        You ran into John & Yoko? Excellent. I “only” got a Warhol. I went to see Howard the Duck in ’86 at a theater I forget the name of on the east side in the 60’s I believe (you needed to go down a short flight of steps to the entrance) and there were only five people in the theater when I looked back and saw Andy and a friend sitting there chatting quietly before the movie started. That made the experience even funnier because I was wondering all through the movie why he’d go and see THIS clunker of all the films playing at that time…

        Like

      • John Greco says:

        I think the theater you are talking about was the Trans Lux East which later became the Gotham.

        Like

      • geelw says:

        Ah, you’re correct! I haven’t been down that side of Manhattan in a while, but I may need to do that stroll I used to back in the day to see how much has changed and what’s still the same…

        Like

  6. It would be interesting to see a young Harvey Keitel in this role. I’m not sure how I feel about the main female character not being given a name, but it sounds like an absorbing film nonetheless.

    Thanks for participating in the blogathon!

    Like

  7. girlsdofilm says:

    One of the few Scorsese films I haven’t seen. Imagine a time when no-one knew his name! Having re-watched Bonnie & Clyde for my post, I’d be interested to see how this compares in terms of ‘romantic’ (or not!) relationships – the fact the main female character had no name doesn’t really fill me with confidence!

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      J.R. lives in a very macho world and was brought up that woman were either idolized or use for sex. Either way, the were not equal. The fact that he has to “forgive her” for being raped should tell you something. BONNIE AND CLYDE is one of my favorite films. Will be stopping by to read your post.

      Like

  8. Rosie says:

    I hadn’t heard of this but now I think I’ll have to take a look at it. The only thing that bothers me is – like a few of the other commenters – the fact that the woman is nameless, but I’m sure there’s some reasoning behind that. Thanks for participating in the blogathon!

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      Rosie, Yeah, I’m not sure why she was not given a name either. Maybe to reflect the sexism of the characters in the film. They lived in a very narrow macho world.

      Like

  9. Sam Juliano says:

    Far better than a number of people give it credit for. Great to frame it in these unforgettable settings.

    Like

  10. says:

    The earliest Scorsese I saw was Taxi Driver. I want soooo much to find his earliest works! This one, for instance, sounds like a master in formation. You are lucky to have seen it when it first came out!
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂
    Greetings!
    http://criticaretro.blogspot.com.br/2014/06/o-fabuloso-dr-dolittle-doctor-dolittle.html

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s