Plot: Nell (Marilyn Monroe) has been hired to babysit at a plus hotel, keeping watch over a young girl while her parents attend a function. Nell’s uncle works at the hotel and checks on her from time to time, to make sure she can handle the situation, but she seems to be doing well. Though he does seem upset that Nell has put on some of the jewelry and perfume of her client, as she can’t afford things that nice and just wanted to feel special for a few minutes. As she dons the glamorous jewels, she is seen through a window by Jed (Richard Widmark), a pilot who stays at the hotel and his former girl works there as a lounge singer. But she broke up with him and as such, he is open to meeting Nell in the meanwhile. He knocks on her door and brings a bottle of wine, thinking she is a hotel guest, not a babysitter. As Jed reminds her of a lost love, Nell begins to lose touch with reality, but can she reel in her wild thoughts or has is she already in too deep?
Entertainment Value: A movie about Marilyn Monroe as a deranged babysitter? That is a premise I could never pass up, seeing one of the beautiful women who ever lived as an unstable, melodramatic wildcard. While that wild concept is what might reel in some of the movie’s first time viewers, Don’t Bother to Knock defies most of those expectations and delivers a thoughtful, kind approach to mental illness. The narrative treats Nell with a compassion that few films have offered, even decades later and to me, that is a noble and remarkable effort. At the same time, while the movie is tasteful in how it deals with Nell’s mental state, it also allows for some melodrama and wild moments, so it strikes that balance quite well. While Monroe and her thread are interesting, the rest of the movie is rather run of the mill. I wasn’t a fan of Jed’s arc, as it feels rushed and rather incomplete, especially how it wraps up. But Nell’s story is the main focus of the movie, so at least the spotlight stays where it belongs in most scenes. The real draw of Don’t Bother to Knock is Monroe and while the rest of the movie is forgettable, her presence alone is enough to recommend the movie.
While she had been in numerous movies before Don’t Bother to Knock, this was one of Marilyn Monroe’s first prominent roles. She makes the most of her chance here, with an eerie, memorable performance. While she would become an icon for her light comedy and romantic roles, here she proves her dramatic skills were also sharp. This role could have easily gone over the top or been unsympathetic, but Monroe walks the line quite well and nails the character. She has moments of sweetness and creepiness in equal doses, which the role needs to work. Richard Widmark is the other co-lead here and he is fine, though limited by the material. His presence is a nice anchor for the movie, but he just isn’t given a lot of chances to shine. To be fair though, stealing a scene from Monroe here would have been a tall order. The cast also includes Anne Bancroft, Donna Corcoran, Jim Backus, and Jeanne Cagney, while Roy Ward Baker provides more than solid direction. In the end, Don’t Bother to Knock is going to appeal most to fans of Monroe, as her presence is the main draw in this one.
The Disc: Twilight Time delivers a stunning new HD treatment, with a clean image and higher than expected detail. Some shots appear a little on the soft side, but overall the image is sharp and refined. I also appreciated how spot on the contrast is, which allows the black & white visuals to shine. As for extras, we have the isolated music track, the film’s trailer, and A&E Biography episodes on both Widmark and Monroe. I love that the Biography episodes were included, as they provide a nice overview of these important performers and add value to the disc.