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My (Slightly More Than) Month With Marilyn: Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

So I have to apologize to everyone assuming this blog has died, I’m very much here and ready to get back to work.  My school year is winding down so I actually have time to watch movies and write.  I have a long overdue review on the movie musical Gypsy which I’m hoping to get to, and I’m working (starting tonight) on finishing Marilyn and starting on my 25 Days of Christmas movie lineup.  That is going to be diverse as it’s a mix of classic films, modern films, some I’ve seen, some I haven’t, just a hodgepodge of elements.  Getting back on finishing up My Month With Marilyn.

This is the second time I’ve watched Don’t Bother to Knock and I still don’t know how I feel about it.  The film tells the story of two people meeting in a hotel where everyone else gets involved.  The main players are Jed Towers (Richard Widmark) and Nell Forbes (Marilyn).  Nell is babysitting for a wealthy couple’s daughter at the hotel where her uncle Eddie (Elisha Cook, Jr.) operates the elevator.  Jed is there trying to…talk to the woman he…really likes named Lyn (Anne Bancroft) who sings at the hotel.  When Jed meets Nell it brings up repressed memories of a man she once loved who died which…turns her psychotic.

So this was Marilyn’s attempt to show studios she could act and she delivers.  She’s probably the only reason to watch this movie because she plays Nell as a woman utterly broken by the death of the man who was supposed to marry her.  Nell has big dreams of living a good life, that might include some money, but she feels no one wants her except Phillip who is unfortunately not among the living.  She’s spent some time in an institution and Eddie thinks she’s cured until Jed shows up.

That’s the problem I have, the character of Jed is a total dick.  He flirts with Nell, shows up at her room obviously looking for a late night booty call after being rejected by Lyn for being a dick, then he spends the entire film going back and forth with Nell.  First she’s crazy and he tries to leave, then Bunny (Donna Corcoran) shows up and he stays, then he tries to leave and someone else shows up.  I know Nell tries to keep him there but if he really wanted to leave I doubt a 95-pound girl could stop him.  Then once Nell really loses it and threatens to kill herself with a razor Jed sits her down, tells her he’s not Phillip and points to Lyn saying “this is my girl.”  Okay you’re telling a mentally unstable young woman you’re not into her, mind you she’s threatening to kill herself, point to another woman who 20 minutes ago told you were done, and say “I love her?”  First I’d kick you in the balls THEN kill myself!

The problem I believe lies in the writing of screenwriter Daniel Taradash.  The script has so many players that get a lot more time devoted to them then necessary.  It’s like the film attempts to craft an ensemble film when the main focus boils down to Jed and Nell.  The transitions between these scenes also play like a bad PowerPoint presentation, sharply cutting from Nell/Jed to Bunny’s parents at dinner.  Characters like Eddie and Lyn especially have no characterization or story, just showing up to reassert that Nell’s crazy and Jed’s a jerk respectively.  A particular scene between Bunny and her mother is particularly hilarious and I don’t believe that was the intent.  Bunny has been tied up by Nell and is finally rescued by her mother.  Her mother unties her, hugs her and says “I guess we’ve never seen anyone like her!”  Wait, what?  You’ve never seen anyone like Nell?  Well she doesn’t look like a psycho sure, I mean she’s gorgeous, but I’d hope you don’t see people who tie up your kids regularly!  It’s such a badly written, out-of-context line that makes no sense in the story.

Another element that doesn’t make sense is Nell’s motivation to marry.  She wants to marry Jed, not just to replace Phillip but because she believes no one else will.  I could understand if she looked like Steve Buscemi ( no offense) she might have some difficulty but she’s Marilyn Monroe!  She doesn’t attempt to look plain or dowdy, she’s gorgeous.  How she doesn’t leave the hotel with at least 3 marriage proposals is beyond me, crazy or not!  I’m led to believe someone else was considered for the role before Marilyn expressed interest, someone plainer maybe.

This isn’t my favorite Marilyn movie but I applaud Marilyn for playing someone out of her comfort zone.  She’s certainly chilling with the little girl, obviously there’s a wealth of issues associated with her childhood that could have made for an interesting psychological horror film of some kind.  But in the end you’re left with Jed and Lyn walking into the sunset, their love rekindled because Jed showed kindness to some crazy girl he would have banged beforehand, and I’m sure they’d be  breaking up the next day once Lyn discovered he was making eyes at another girl.  Nell is left to go to some nuthouse because she’s crazy you know!  You’re left to see Nell as a villain, trying to break up the two crazy kids trying to find love but that’s not the case.  We never learn about Nell as a damaged woman, it’s a love story you know!

Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

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