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Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

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Nell (Marilyn Monroe) is escorted to a hotel room by her uncle, bellhop Eddie (Elisha Cook Jr), on babysitting duty. Downstairs, pilot Jed (Richard Widmark) is dumped by his girlfriend, chanteuse Lyn (Anne Bancroft) in between songs. He retires to his room where he observes the beautiful babysitter across the courtyard. He phones her and mistakes her for a wealthy woman in need of some company. The little girl she’s looking after interrupts their conversation and bit by bit, the story comes undone and it’s clear Nell thinks he’s an old boyfriend whom we realise was killed in the war. Things get tricky and the little girl is in serious jeopardy …  Eventually the situation in the room becomes violent and all is revealed: we find out precisely where Nell has spent the last three years. Daniel Taradash adapted a novel by Charlotte Armstrong and it was directed by British man Roy (Ward) Baker in a very effective style. Monroe was lacking in confidence for this dramatic role and there are moments where her dissonant performance actually makes for a properly disturbing experience. Studio heads were not impressed. But her fan base was hugely effective in raising her profile and she got thousands of letters every week and the studio had no idea why. (Grace Kelly had a parallel situation at her studio). Co-star Widmark was not impressed by her in person but commented on her awesome impact onscreen. Anne Bancroft was a confident NYC actress making her screen debut (it was Monroe’s 18th outing) and she stated that in the scene they shared, in the hotel lobby, where Monroe had to play at being in pain and helpless, what greeted Bancroft was precisely that, and it was so powerful that it brought tears to her eyes. The women were not remotely similar but oddly, Bancroft left Hollywood to return to Broadway in 1957 (a year after Monroe also departed, deeply unhappy at the state of her career) making her screen comeback with an incredible performance in The Miracle Worker in 1962 – the year that Monroe died.

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About elainelennon

An occasional movie-watching diary.

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