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Who's That Knocking at My Door?

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
Who's That Knocking at My Door? Movie Poster Image
Early Scorsese film has rape, nudity, sexism.
  • R
  • 1968
  • 90 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Girls who have sex are tainted goods and decent men won't marry them. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

J.R. was trained his whole life, by church and family, to view women in two categories -- as either whores or pure. Although it sometimes seems as if he has the brains and sensitivity to know better, he adheres to double standards regarding men, women, and sex.  

Violence

The violence of a rape is graphic. A man tries to rape a girl he's dating in a car. She escapes and he wrestles her back into the car and rapes her, although the sex isn't shown. Several guys beat up another guy on the street. "Friends" call each other stupid. A guy steals from a girl's purse while making out with her.

Sex

In one long sequence, breasts, a millisecond glimpse of a penis, and male and female pubic hair are shown. (The scene was reportedly added at a distributor's request and feels out of place.) The movie focuses on double standards of the film's era regarding virginity for men versus for women. The attitude of the lead male character is that men marry virgins and party with "loose" women who "put out." A man refuses to believe that the woman he loves was raped, thinking she's trying to dupe him into marrying her even though she's no longer a virgin.

Language

"F-g," "fairy," "damn," "jerkoff," and "whore."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink alcohol to excess and smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Who's That Knocking at My Door? is one of famed director Martin Scorsese's earliest films. The 1967 black-and-white drama features Harvey Keitel as an out-of-work guy on who falls for a "nice girl," as opposed to the hookers he usually hangs out with. In one session with two "working girls" (imagined or possibly real) a man and woman are seen fully nude (a glimpse of male pubic hair and a longer look at female). As per the era, adults smoke cigarettes and much of the action takes place in a bar, so drinking alcohol is also on display. Wise-guy wannabes also play with guns, so there's always a sense that someone is going to get shot, deliberately or accidentally. The violence of a rape is graphic. A man tries to rape a girl he's dating in a car. She escapes and he wrestles her back into the car and rapes her, although the sex isn't shown. Language includes "f-g," "fairy," "damn," and "whore." Some religious imagery.

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What's the story?

WHO'S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR focuses on three low-life New York wise-guy wannabes who drink, smoke, party, and sleep with prostitutes (sex scenes feature full nudity), but have no qualms about setting higher standards for the behavior of others. J.R. (Harvey Keitel) seems to be the one guy who has the potential to be better than the idiots he hangs out with. When they take a trip to the countryside, Joey (Lennard Kuras) complains nonstop, but J.R. appreciates the beauty of nature, and he's a film buff with good taste. He falls for a far more refined girl (Zina Bethune) than the prostitutes/"loose" women he usually hangs out with, and when he stands in her studio apartment filled with jazz records and books, including Fitzgerald's "Tender is the Night," he seems both interested and fearful that he doesn't measure up. When they finally have a sexual encounter, he refuses to go any farther than kissing and touching, but won't explain that he's serious about her and, as a Catholic, won't have sex with her until after marriage. When she later reveals that she was date-raped (shown in a disturbingly violent flashback), he's angry, accusing her of lying to him to cover up the fact that she's already had sex. She's clearly ashamed that she was raped and understands that he would see her as tainted goods. After their breakup, he returns to her, hesitatingly apologizes, and tells her that he's still willing to marry her despite her second-class status. She stands up for herself, and says "no," explaining that he would always "find a way to bring it up." He says "damn right," and calls her a whore. He goes to church to confess, surrounded by jump cuts of religious statuary depicting the crucifixion, Christ's wounds, and the Virgin Mary's grief.   

Is it any good?

Here's an unusual look at the early work of a director who would soon after show enormous skill and ability, making it fascinating for students of film and far less interesting for anyone else. Scorsese uses non-actors and employs a little too much improvisation. Teens used to quick-paced, polished, color, expertly-edited blockbusters may view this slow, grainy character study as a lot of boring parts surrounding a bit of soft-core-porn.

That said, Scorsese's visual skills, ingenuity on a low budget, and ability to make the most of raw young acting talent is unmistakable. And note that tWho's That Knocking at My Door? is edited by Thelma Schoonmaker, who has remained a close collaborator through decades of his great films, including Raging Bull, The Age of Innocence, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Goodfellas. Here Scorsese is already tackling a lifelong theme regarding the hypocrisy of church adherents who sin but set strict standards for the behavior of others, as well as Catholic guilt. Interestingly, although nudity and sex and sexual violence are fully on display here, language is tame by today's standards.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the explanation about the difference between "broads" and "girls." Why do you think the male lead, and others both at that time and now, make a distinction between women Keitel's character can have sex with and those he would only have sex with after marriage?

  • How do you think attitudes in Who's That Knocking at My Door? about women and sex related to ideas at the heart of women's movement?

  • Do you think the sexual attitudes on display here make this movie seem dated, or do such attitudes still come into play socially among teens and adults today? Are girls called sluts? Is there a comparable word for boys? Why or why not?

Movie details

For kids who love classics

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