At this stage Martin Scorsese has directed around 25 films, almost all of them highly regarded classics in cinema, from Taxi Driver via Raging Bull to the inarguably magnificent masterpiece Goodfellas. He has also been heavily involved with a longstanding devotion to preserving and restoring films that would otherwise have been lost. Scorsese is undoubtedly one of the most important figures in the history of filmmaking. That status was reflected earlier this year when the BFI hosted a celebration of his films, as well as the man himself who also curated a programme of restored classics. As part of that celebration comes two new releases of early films by Scorsese, starting here with his feature debut as both writer and director, Who’s That Knocking at My Door.
JR (Keitel) is a young Italian-American man, and Catholic, who has grown up in New York and still hangs around the same areas with the same wannabe tough guy friends he has always known. After he meets a young woman (Bethune) on the Staten Island Ferry one evening, it begins a slow change in priorities for him. As their relationship grows and JR finds himself falling in love, he realises this could be the woman he wants to marry and settle down with. But The Girl (the character is never named) has a secret in her past that once revealed might prove too much for JR to be able to handle. As he struggles with guilt, confusion and rage JR seems set to destroy his new found happiness.
You can gather from that synopsis that many of the themes that have run through his subsequent pictures were already being explored. JR is the focus of Scorsese’s very personal meditation on Catholicism and guilt, filtered through the American male perspective. There’s no real mobsters or violence in this film but it certainly shows that even at the beginning of his career, Scorsese was fascinated by the emotional brutality we inflict upon ourselves, as well as the way where we grow up and how we are raised (religion, community) informs how we live our lives.
It’s also evident throughout this film that Scorsese’s unique style was beginning to develop at this early stage. The way he manages to ground his films, making characters and situations feel authentic, whilst taking his influences to make them excitingly cinematic in execution is here. For fans, as an example of his nascent talent it's required viewing. The story is admittedly slight and the result of Scorsese's experimenting on occasion borders dangerously near to affected but overall the use of structure, music, technique and strong performances (Keitel most of all) all helps make this slice of JR’s life compelling, recommended stuff.
WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR (1967) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: MARTIN SCORSESE / STARRING: HARVEY KEITEL, ZINA BETHUNE, LENNARD KURAS / RELEASE DATE: 27TH MARCH