Knock on Any Door

Screening on Film
Directed by Nicholas Ray.
With John Derek, Humphrey Bogart, Allene Roberts.
US, 1949, 35mm, black & white, 100 min.
Print source: Sony Pictures

The first of two features Ray made for Santana, Humphrey Bogart’s short-lived independent production company, Knock on Any Door is an angry exposé of poverty and crime set in 1930s Chicago, a setting that drew upon Ray’s Midwestern youth and Depression-era political activism. In his first leading role, John Derek is among the earliest of Ray’s troubled rebels whose frightening motto “Live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse” is an eerie portent of James Dean’s short life. Although Knock on Any Door veers dangerously close to the sentimental social consciousness dramas whose clichés Ray would deftly subvert in Rebel Without a Cause, Ray’s unerring eye for composition along with his ability to convey characters’ emotions through setting is again on display here, with fences, jail cells and barred windows heightening the sense of entrapment felt by the film’s juvenile delinquent protagonist.

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