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Review: Who’s That Knocking at My Door-I Call First (1967)

Directed by: Martin Scorsese | 86 minutes | drama | Actors: Zina Bethune, Harvey Keitel, Anne Collette, Lennard Kuras, Michael Scala, Harry Northup, Tsuai Yu-Lan, Saskia Holleman, Bill Minkin, Philip Carlson, Wendy Russell, Robert Uricola, Susan Wood, Marissa Mathes, Catherine Scorsese, Victor Magnotta, Paul DeBonde

Finally, in 2007, there was that long-awaited Oscar for Martin Scorsese, for “The Departed” (2006). The filmmaker, who has been making his mark on American cinema since the late 1960s, should of course have received such a statue much earlier. For his masterpieces “Taxi Driver” (1975) or “Raging Bull” (1980), for example. The director could hardly believe it himself and joked: “Could you double-check the envelope …?” Scorsese found his (thematic) inspiration in his early years in the western “The Searchers” (1956), a film he revisited countless times for ideas. “Taxi Driver” (1975) may be his most concrete homage to John Ford’s classic western – essentially a grim, metropolitan remake of it – but his fascination is also evident in his very first steps in the business. For example, his debut film “Who’s That Knocking at My Door” (1967) even literally refers to “The Searchers” when the two main characters watch and discuss the film together.

“Who’s That Knocking at My Door”, also known as “I Call First”, is the film with which knocked loudly at the door of the film establishment. This was the film with which he graduated from the Film Academy. In fact, the print consists of shreds of film that he shot in the course of his studies, supplemented into a film about an hour and a half about a group of young people in the Little Italy neighborhood of New York. The lead role is for a young Harvey Keitel. He plays JR, an unemployed boy with his heart in the right place, but who is wedged between his strict Catholic background and the local mafia, where he prefers to stay far away. He hangs around with his mates Joey (Lennard Kuras) and Sally (Michael Scala). When meets a beautiful and sophisticated student (Zina Bethune) on the ferry to Staten Island, his life is turned upside down. This girl – she remains nameless – is well-read, intelligent and has had relationships before, unlike JR, who is also intelligent but in a streetwise way. When he finds out that the love of his life is no longer a virgin, his world collapses. Given his Catholic background, this is a great shame and it takes him great effort to deal with it.

“There are girls, and then there are broads”. A typical statement of JR, the main character in “Who’s That Knocking at My Door”. Sexist perhaps, but above all an institution that represents his fear that he, as a man, will lose his (sexual) power to the woman. It is a theme that occurs more often in Scorsese’s work. The same applies to the strict Catholic background in which the director grew up. The young Scorsese once had plans to become a priest, but in the end the medium of film turned out to be an even better way to express his passion for the faith. It is not surprising that in each of his films, and therefore also in this debut, faith plays a role in the background (and in the case of ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ from 1988 even very explicitly). “Who’s That Knocking at My Door” offers a vivid and realistic glimpse into the lives of ordinary boys in the Little Italy of the 1960s. Leading American film critic Roger Ebert was awestruck by the film, calling Scorsese’s debut “a great moment for American cinema.”

Stylistically, the director already shows quite a few of his possibilities. Most notable examples are the fight scene in which he plays with slow-motion images and a sex scene in which music (in this case “The End” by The Doors) is used very effectively. An interesting precursor to what we would all see later from this filmmaker. Overall, however, “Who’s That Knocking at My Door” is just a messy and disjointed film. It is clear to see that the scenes were shot at different times, for example due to the sometimes inadequate editing and lighting. In addition, there hardly seems to be a scenario present, so that as a viewer you miss a grip. All that’s clear is that this is a coming-of-age movie. It is as if some beautiful images were shot at random, which were later put together. A kind of style exercise, in other words, in which little coherence can be found. The convincing playing of Scorsese’s fellow student Harvey Keitel and the other actors does not detract from that.

“Who’s That Knocking at My Door” gives a good picture of the development that has done as a filmmaker. r created. The visual highlights and certain recognizable themes were included early on and would only be further explored and perfected by Scorsese in his later work. For that reason it is extremely fascinating for any lover of the work of the New Yorker to see this debut. However, that doesn’t make ‘Who’s That Knocking at My Door’ a good film. There is no solid scenario for this and any coherence in the images shown. But with a graduation film like this it is no wonder that Scorsese passed with flying colors!

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