I’ve come to notice, recently, that a director’s feature debut rarely represents his or her later work. This isn’t the case with Martin Scorsese. We look at his filmography and notice that a number of the films are all different, but essentially the same.
Many of his films are hardboiled, upbeat, nostalgic dramas; we’re given a likable, male lead and then shown how leading a double-life makes him so easily lose his touch with his surroundings. If you don’t believe me, take a look at Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, GoodFellas, and The Aviator. And, of course, Who’s That Knocking at My Door , the overlooked masterpiece that heads the list.
Who’s That Knocking at My Door centers on J.R. (Harvey Keitel) and an unnamed woman (Zina Bethune) with whom he falls in love the moment their eyes meet. She’s trying to remain unnoticed as she reads a French magazine in a café, despite not knowing a word of French. He approaches her and points out a still of John Wayne in the magazine, leading them to discuss The Searchers. It’s a casual, genuine conversation that makes the couple as lovably amusing to us as they are to each other.
But once J.R. has taken her to his apartment, he finds that he’s hiding something from her. He’s unemployed; he’s a Catholic Italian-American in NYC; he’s taking her money behind her back when he needs it; he’s constantly warning her not to touch his belongings; and yet he has limited spare time with her. Considering the director, a crime aficionado, it may seem obvious that he’s a Mafia member, but it’s shockingly nothing all that obvious.
I thoroughly enjoyed Who’s That Knocking at My Door, and although it’s not as easily recognizable as the director’s later work, it’s a work of genius. The film was independently produced on a minimal budget; it was limited to, most namely, black-and-white footage and lesser known players (this was Keitel’s first appearance on film). Yet the cinematography and performances still manage to greatly enhance whatever J.R. and “the girl” are feeling. Who’s That Knocking at My Door is an authentic psychodrama seen subtly through two pairs of eyes.
Postscript: The film was first released to the Chicago International Film Festival in 1967 as “I Call First”. In 1968, it adopted its most common title, “Who’s That Knocking at My Door”, for its New York premiere. In 1970, a handful of countries overseas began using another alternate title, “J.R.” Regardless, it’s the same movie, and it’s highly recommended.
The Verdict: 10/10Once again, you can find Alexander at The Cinemaniac or follow him on Twitter at @moviefreakblog