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Film / Whos That Knocking At My Door

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Who's That Knocking at My Door is a 1967 Romantic Dramedy film written and directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Harvey Keitel and Zina Bethune. J.R. (Keitel) is an aimless young man who lives in New York's Little Italy, spending most of his days hanging out with his friends. One day, riding on the Staten Island Ferry, he meets a young, blonde, middle-class woman (Bethune). They fall in love, but the tug-of-war between J.R.'s familiar lifestyle and his uncertainty about the new possibilities that The Girl represents turns into a full-blown crisis when she reveals that she was raped by an old boyfriend. Riddled with Catholic guilt and toxic masculinity, J.R. struggles mightily with this revelation.

It marked Scorsese's formal debut as a feature film director. It began life as a short, Bring on the Dancing Girls, he made while attending film school at New York University. Eventually more footage was added, and it gained acclaim on the film festival circuit. This film introduced many of his signature motifs and tropes. It's also sometimes called the Ur-Example of a mainstream feature film that features extensive pre-existing pop music on the soundtrack, as a way to establish a mood, comment on the action, or provide Soundtrack Dissonance to the action. Scorsese would help make this an almost-universal technique of modern filmmaking with his use of it in later films.note 


Michael Wadleigh was one of the cinematographers. When Wadleigh directed Woodstock three years later, Scorsese helped out with camerawork and editing.

BEWARE. Spoilers are unmarked.

The movie contains examples of:

  • Anachronistic Soundtrack: Even this early in his career, Scorsese was using pop music as a major part of the soundtrack, with frequent Soundtrack Dissonance. Here, he chooses songs from The ’50s and the early part of The '60s that were a few years out-of-date to the setting, like "Who's That Knocking?" by The Genies, "I've Had It" by The Bell Notes, "El Watusi" by Ray Barretto, "Shout" by The Isley Brothers, "Shotgun" by Junior Walker, "The Plea" by The Chantels, "Jenny Take a Ride" by Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels and "Ain't That Just Like Me" by The Searchers (a subtle Call-Back, since there's a conversation about The Searchers—the film—earlier in the movie). The infamous added sex scene used the more contemporary "The End" by The Doors.
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  • Antihero: J.R. is much more likable than his macho buddies, has Hidden Depths, and has a sensitive side that The Girl helps bring out, but the negative attitudes of the culture he was raised in make him do and say some bad things.
  • Author Avatar: J.R. is clearly a stand-in for Scorsese himself, as a Little Italy native who loves the work of John Ford, though giving him some less-admirable traits was probably a good way for Scorsese to distance himself enough from the character so he could approach the story more objectively.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The Girl described her former boyfriend as "gentlemanly". This was the same boyfriend who violently raped her during a date.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Madonna-and-child statue we first see in the opening scene with J.R.'s mother is seen later in his apartment, visually representing his Catholic guilt.
    J.R.: Be careful, don't touch it.
    The Girl: Look, don't worry. I won't break it.
    J.R.: Anything happens to that, my mother will pass out.
  • Covers Always Lie: The original poster features a still from the gratuitous sex scene that the distributor forced Scorsese to add. Even more misleading than it seems, since the woman in the picture isn't Zina Bethune.
  • Creator Cameo: A very young, very clean-shaven Scorsese plays one of the guys at the party in the "El Watusi" sequence.
  • Date Rape: The Girl was raped by her former boyfriend during a date.
  • Defiled Forever: J.R. refuses to have sex with the Girl because he doesn't want to "spoil" her. Later on, he cruelly states that her rape meant she was this trope and that no one would want to marry her because of it.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: A consequence of No Budget, though it works in giving the film a gritty feel, not to mention highlighting the similarities between it and I Vitelloni.
  • Downer Ending: J.R. and the Girl break-up as the former is unable to accept what happened to her and their relationship is fractured beyond repair. J.R. goes back to his empty life in Little Italy.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: This is a Scorsese trademark, and J.R.'s buddy Joey is the Ur-Example in his filmography. He's a loudmouth who always complains, even while looking at a beautiful scene after hiking to the top of a mountain. He also roughs up his friends who owe him money.
  • It's All About Me: The Girl tells J.R. a personal story of the traumatic rape she endured by a former boyfriend, and how does he respond? Angrily states how her rape negatively effects him and how she broke his heart.
  • Jerkass:
    • Despite his earlier kind nature, J.R. proves to be a selfish, misogynistic asshole who slut-shamed The Girl in regards to her rape. And then has the nerve to say he forgives her for getting raped!
    • The Girl's former boyfriend who pretended to be a gentlemanly person but was really a violent rapist.
  • Karma Houdini: The Girl's former boyfriend who raped her apparently didn't face any comeuppance for his brutal assault on her.
  • Kick the Dog: Anytime J.R. slut shamed the Girl in regards to her rape.
  • Madonna–Whore Complex: During one of their dates, J.R. explains the difference between a "girl" and a "broad" — The former is a woman who you can settle down with, a "good girl" while the latter are women only good for sex, a "bad girl". During their fight in the last scene, J.R. angrily calls her a "broad" and then, a "whore" because of her rape.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The first scene shows a young J.R., his siblings, and their mother.
  • Mooks: The film doesn't come right out and say that J.R. and his friends are this, but it's easy to figure out. For one thing, the reason J.R. is on the ferry in the first place is that he's delivering a suspicious-looking package (which he claims is from his grandmother). When The Girl asks him what he does for a living, he just vaguely replies that he's between jobs.
  • No Name Given: Except for J.R. and a few of his friends, practically no one has their full name revealed. Not even J.R.'s girlfriend.
  • The Oner: Most of the scene where J.R. meets The Girl is a single shot, with the camera tracking side-to-side and moving in for close-ups.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname:
    • J.R. simply goes by... J.R.
    • Also his buddy Sally Gaga (who's a guy).
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Deconstructed. J.R. has a very skewed view when it comes to women and what makes them "pure". However, this only serves to highlight his jerkass nature as it's he simply sees the Girl's rape as something that makes her "dirty", when it was a traumatic experience that wasn't her fault, but J.R. is to caught up in his own selfish views to fully see and understand it.
  • Raised Catholic: J.R. is a devout Catholic.
  • Random Events Plot: The romance has a definite arc, but everything else is episodic. This is understandable, since it's essentially three separate productions combined into a single film. The bits about J.R. and his pals are from the original Bring on the Dancing Girls short, J.R.'s relationship with The Girl was added to create I Call First, then the sex fantasy was a much later addition.
  • Rape as Backstory: During a date with a former boyfriend, the Girl was brutally raped by him.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: The Girl described her former boyfriend as "gentlemanly" and likes J.R. for his charming, likable nature. Unfortunately, both turn out to be assholes.
  • Slut-Shaming: When the Girl talks about the rape that happened to her, J.R.'s response is to blame and then accuse her of being a whore. Needless to say, the Girl is pissed.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Many of the songs are used in stark counterpoint to what's happening onscreen, but most dramatically with "Don't Ask Me (to be Lonely)" a dreamy 1957 Doo-wop ballad by The Dubs, playing during the rape flashback.
  • Spiritual Successor: Mean Streets was initially conceived as a sequel to this film, and the links between them are obvious. Harvey Keitel's performances as J.R. here and Charlie in Mean Streets are nearly identical. The Little Italy milieu is protrayed similarly, with the guys hanging out in dingy clubs and goofing around. And the influence of I Vitelloni is very strong in both films. In fact, it's even stronger here.
  • Title Drop: From the 1959 Doo-wop song "Who's That Knocking?" by The Genies, which plays at the climax of the film (though the actual line is "Who's that knockin' on my door?").
  • Tranquil Fury: The Girl keeps her calm but is understandably seething with quiet rage and disappointment over J.R. Slut-Shaming and blaming for her rape.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The No Budget naturalistic style, unorthodox use of camerawork, episodic story structure and extensive use of pop music on the soundtrack all make this feel like Scorsese took a time machine to The '90s, studied the Indie film boom, then went back to The '60s and did his own riff on the style.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: J.R. and Joey are always bickering back-and-forth.


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