Time: 90 Minutes
Zina Bethune as Girl
Harvey Keitel as J.R.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Exploring themes of Catholic guilt similar to those in Martin Scorsese’s later film Mean Streets, the story follows Italian-American J.R. (Harvey Keitel) as he struggles to accept the secret hidden by his independent and free-spirited girlfriend (Zina Bethune).
With The Irishman coming soon, I wanted to watch/re-watch many of director Martin Scorsese’s movies, including his feature films that I haven’t seen yet. Who’s that Knocking at My Door is his first ever movie, and I hadn’t seen it yet, so I decided to start from there. I wasn’t expecting much going into it, and indeed I guess you could call it one of his ’weakest’ movies, but there’s still a lot of solid parts to it.
I guess one of the problems of Who’s that Knocking at My Door is that it’s a little unfocussed, it wasn’t too much of a problem for me as for much of the movie I could follow along with where it was going. However occasionally, there were portions of the movie which weren’t really going anywhere. With that said, this movie is an hour and a half long, so it doesn’t really overstay it’s welcome. The big turn of the movie happens in like last third of the movie, so if you heard what the plot is really about and the big ‘reveal’, you may just be sitting around waiting for that moment to come. I was just watching Keitel’s character interacting with his friends and with his girlfriend, and I was fine enough with that. You need to know that first and foremost that this film is dialogue driven. Thankfully the dialogue works really well, it feels very realistic, and indeed the script was written by Scorsese himself. Characters are often talking about things that aren’t necessarily relevant to the plot or anything that furthers it, whether it be about movies, John Wayne or whatever, but it makes them feel more real and naturalistic. The highlights were of course the interactions between the two main leads, especially their first scene feeling particularly authentic. Even the scenes of R.J. (Harvey Keitel) with his friends felt very genuine. The movie also involves Catholic guilt as one of the main themes, which is something that would appear quite a lot in Scorsese’s other movies. Without revealing too much (who don’t know about them already), some of the themes explored later in the movie might not be impressive by today’s standard, but for 1967 the subject matter is actually handled quite well and ahead of its time really.
There isn’t a huge cast, but the acting is pretty good. Harvey Keitel and Zina Bethune are the leads, and they are believable in their roles. It is definitely helped by the naturalistic dialogue, but they delivered it so well and are very convincing. For Keitel, his lead character of J.R. almost sets up the kind of archetypical character that Scorsese would create and explore in films like Mean Streets, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas. Bethune was also really good in here too as the unnamed girlfriend, and some of the decisions made with her character in the latter part of the movie I thought were done well.
It’s Martin Scorsese’s first film, so you’re definitely not going to expect him at the top of his game here, but he nonetheless does a solid job. Definitely low budget ($75,000 to be exact) but for a student film it’s actually pretty good, and the black and white seemed to fit the rest of the movie. Interesting fact, Scorsese could only get the distribution by someone who worked with exploitation movies by agreeing to the condition to feature a sex scene to give the film sex exploitation angles for marketing purposes. Indeed there is a gratuitous sex scene here but he managed to film it well as a fantasy sequence that fitted into the movie perfectly here, even if the movie is perfectly functional without it. Something that Scorsese demonstrated with his debut was his excellent use of songs and fitting them perfectly with scenes. From the opening of Jenny Take a Ride to The Doors’ The End being played over the aforementioned exploitation sex scenes, all of the music choices added a ton to the scenes that they were placed in. The editing was also pretty solid by Thelma Schoonmaker, and you can see why she and Scorsese would continue to work together for quite a long time. A lot of the transitions and cuts just feel perfect for the moments. The movie definitely has an experimental feel to it, and while it is very rough, it does make it interesting to watch.
Who’s that Knocking at My Door is a decent debut, despite how unfocussed it can be, Scorsese even from this first movie showed himself to be a real talent and Keitel and Bethune ultimately carry much of the movie. I guess it’s not really essential viewing by any means, but if you’re a fan of Scorsese I’d say that it might be worth checking out.