Cine-File’s Kyle Cubr reviews “Who’s That Knocking at My Door” playing for the Chicago Film Society

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Originally starting out as a student short film while he was still attending NYU, WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR is Martin Scorsese’s first feature film, as well as Harvey Keitel’s, who would later collaborate with the esteemed director another four times. The decision to turn it into a feature only arose after it was suggested he include a sex scene with ample nudity so that the film could be sold as a sexual exploitation film. It is shot primarily in 35mm, with a few sequences shot in 16mm to allow greater camera mobility. Even at the onset of his career, Scorsese possesses the stylistic trademarks and that he has since become known for—overhead shots looking downwards like some omnipotent being, Catholic-guilt, Italian-Americans trying to make a name for themselves. J.R. (Keitel) is a young man living in New York. He spends his days paling around with his friends, drinking, and going to the movies. One day he meets a local girl (Zina Bethune) while waiting for the Staten Island Ferry and they form an instant connection while talking about John Wayne films. As their relationship furthers, he decides to abstain from having sex with her until marriage, as he believes her to be a virgin and doesn’t want to ‘spoil’ her. When she later reveals that she was raped by her former boyfriend, J.R. rejects her and returns to his former partying ways with his friends. The theme of Catholic-guilt plays very heavily throughout this film and its presence is felt subtly in nearly every scene, with Scorsese’s frequent use of Catholic iconography such as crosses and statues of Mary. This onslaught of imagery shows the viewer a glimpse into the inner workings of J.R.’s mind as he has a hard time reconciling his religious convictions with the more progressive nature of the world around him at that time. Clearly a film made by one who knows his craft and its history extremely well, WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR shows Scorsese at his most raw and unrefined but demonstrates the enormous wealth of talent that would later materialize as his career progressed.

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