Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Knock on Any Door (Nicholas Ray, 1949)

In Nicholas Ray’s Knock on Any Door, commercial attorney Andrew Morton (Humphrey Bogart) steps back into his criminal-law past to defend Nick Romano (John Derek), a young “hoodlum” accused of killing a police officer: much of the first half unfolds in flashback as Morton recounts for the jury his past experiences with Romano, and his own possible partial culpability for why the young man’s life went wrong; the second half focuses mainly on the trial itself. The rather ungainly structure and all that’s packed into it generates a feeling of Ray being hemmed in much of the time, finding limited room for visual invention or meaningful character exploration; it achieves a few grace notes at the end though, in a lonely overhead framing of Morton making his final argument, and in the very final, transcendence-tinged shot (no less striking for being rather absurd). John Derek’s Nick Romano is as thin a presence as everyone has always said, but Bogart is as fascinatingly shaded as always, and the diverse supporting cast accommodates Preston Sturges-like eccentricity, unrestrained excess, wild intensity, the soft-spoken loveliness of Allene Roberts as the girl with whom Romano falls in love, and a relatively prominent, naturalistic Black character, whose testimony sparks a courtroom blow-up over whether or not he would even have been allowed inside the bar where he claimed to be at the time of the murder. The film’s speechifying, however overdone, still connects at a time when large factions of mainstream America seem to be defined largely by drummed-up fear and paranoia; the revelation that Romano is actually guilty, despite Morton’s skilled argument for his innocence, speaks directly to the wearisome burden of maintaining one’s idealism. But overall, it’s instructive that a film so strenuously seeking to enhance our sense of ambiguity and perspective should end up being one of Ray’s most unilluminatingly straightforward.

No comments:

Post a Comment