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Who's That Knocking at My Door

Martin Scorsese's final film-school project is primarily of interest for its important role in its director's career. Not only is Who's That Knocking at my Door? (1967) Scorsese's first feature-length film, but it also marks the very capable film debut of Harvey Keitel, as well as serving as something of a precursor for his 1973 breakthrough effort Mean Streets. Beyond that however, this movie — shot mostly guerrilla-style on 16mm over a period of four years, and with a sex-scene dream sequence added to enhance the commercial appeal of its theatrical run — is of little more interest than most student films: It's dull, indulgent, and irrelevant. Keitel stars as J.R., a young Catholic caught in an irreconcilable disconnect between his juvenile hoodlum-lite lifestyle and his relationship with a progressive college girl (Zina Bethune). While many scenes in Who's That Knocking foreshadow the playful sense of criminal hijinks and foreboding Catholic guilt of Mean Streets, its rough edges subtract more than they add. The black-and-white photography is very nice, but the narrative is a mess, and compounded by the bafflingly scattershot sound design. Scorsese also employs several French New Wave-style editing conceits, but as with most student films, these moments feel more like last-ditch cover-ups than planned artistic choices. For a 90-minute movie, Who's That Knocking feels about an hour longer, and it shows none of the infectious spirit of Scorsese's earlier short films, like the impressive It's Not Just You, Murray! (1964) and What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1963). Still, the film has its moments, most of which involve Bethune; the parallel scenes of Keitel and his friends are almost inexplicable in their monotony. J.R., in some ways, is the archetypal young man (and an obvious Scorsese stand-in). He is unable to relate on any emotional level; he just wants to talk about movies. When confronted with his girlfriend's unpleasant past, he calls her a "whoo-ore" and gets drunk. While this comment on male behavior is valid and not unwelcome, it would have been better off about an hour shorter. Warner's DVD release of Who's That Knocking at My Door presents the feature in a good anamorphic transfer (1.66:1) with monaural Dolby Digital audio. Commentary on selected scenes is provided by Scorsese and his friend and colleague Mardik Martin; Scorsese is typically chatty, but not even he can come up with anything interesting to say about his debut film. Martin also features in a interview featurette (12 min.), but he adds little to the experience. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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