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Andrew Morton is an attorney who made it out of the slums. Nick Romano is his client, a young man with a long string of crimes behind him. After he lost his paycheck gambling, hoping to buy his wife some jewelry, she announced she was pregnant, Later he finds her dead from suicide. When he turns again to robbery he's caught by a cop and Nick pumps all his bullets into him in frustration. Morton's appeal to the court emphasizes the evils of the slums.Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"Knock on Any Door" (Columbia 1949), a combination courtroom drama and delinquent youth social statement, was Nicholas Ray's directorial debut. Humphrey Bogart plays lawyer Andrew Morton, one time street tough turned idealistic lawyer. Bogart's independent production company made the film shortly after he broke away from Warner Brothers. Bogart's part was originally intended for Marlon Brando, but Brando withdrew after the death of producer Mark Hellinger.
On the verge of becoming a partner in his big-time law firm, Morton is yanked out of his ivory tower and into the past by the need to defend accused murderer Pretty Boy Romano (John Derek), who he attempted to help when Romano was a petty teenage criminal. This is told in flashbacks with Romano repeating his credo: "live fast, die young, and have a good looking corpse". Probably the first film use of what has become a very tired expression. Morton carries a lot of guilty baggage into the trial. He blames himself for the imprisonment of Romano's father, an event that plunged the family into poverty and led to Romano's life of crime. Through the years he had tried to help Romano who had married a nice girl and attempted to go straight. But setbacks at work returned Romano to crime. Then his pregnant wife's suicide unhinged him and he killed a cop.
The "Knock on Any Door" expression refers to Morton's plea for leniency during the trial, as he blames the conditions in the slums and the affects of poverty for Romano's actions. Stating that behind any door are young men whose lives will be wasted unless they receive guidance and are assisted in becoming productive citizens.
"Knock on Any Door" provides a nice example of the unpredictability inherit in the film making business. A look at screenplay and cast would lead you to expect the film's strengths to be the Bogart-Derek scenes and the courtroom drama, with the romantic background story (told in flashbacks) a glaring weakness.
But the trial scenes which take up a substantial part of the film suffer from the usual procedural inaccuracies and are not particularly effective dramatically. Bogart pretty much plays his Captain Queeg character ("The Caine Mutiny") and spends more time whining than defending. The Bogart-Derek scenes are nothing special and there is no chemistry between the two actors. The narrative actually contradicts the theme of outrage over social inequities. The simplistic conclusions about social justice ring hollow and any sympathetic feelings toward Romano seem misplaced.
The production design is great. When combined with the haunting the black & white photography it makes for one of the best looking examples of the film noir genre.
What ultimately saves the film and actually makes it rather special is the romance between Romano and Emma (Allene Roberts). This unlikely character pairing (imagine James Dean's "Rebel" having a serious relationship with Melanie from "Gone With the Wind") somehow works as Roberts and Derek have a real chemistry together. And she introduces intangibles that are missing from the rest of the production. In addition, the relationship itself introduces a nice irony as it is the pressure to make Emma proud of him and to tangibly demonstrate his love that ultimately leads Romano back to crime.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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