Knock on Any Door

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Knock on Any Door
Theatrical release poster
Directed byNicholas Ray
Produced byRobert Lord
Screenplay byJohn Monks Jr.
Daniel Taradash
Based onKnock on Any Door (1947 novel)
by Willard Motley
StarringHumphrey Bogart
John Derek
George Macready
Allene Roberts
Susan Perry
Music byGeorge Antheil
CinematographyBurnett Guffey
Edited byViola Lawrence
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • February 22, 1949 (1949-02-22) (New York City)
  • March 17, 1949 (1949-03-17) (United States)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.1 million[1]

Knock on Any Door is a 1949 American courtroom trial film noir directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Humphrey Bogart. The picture gave actor John Derek a break in developing his film career and was based on the 1947 novel of the same name by Willard Motley.[2]


Against the wishes of his law partners, slick talking lawyer Andrew Morton (Humphrey Bogart) takes the case of Nick Romano (John Derek), a troubled punk from the slums, partly because he himself came from the same slums, and partly because he feels guilty for his partner botching the criminal trial of Nick's father years earlier. Nick is on trial for viciously killing a policeman point-blank and faces execution if convicted (the event is shown in a dark opening scene, but the killer's face is not seen).

Nick's history is shown through flashbacks showing him as a hoodlum committing one petty crime after another. Morton's wife Adele (Candy Toxton) convinces him to play nursemaid to Nick in order to make Nick a better person. Nick then robs Morton of $100 after a fishing trip. Shortly after that, Nick marries Emma (Allene Roberts), and he tries to change his lifestyle. He takes on job after job but keeps getting fired because of his recalcitrance. He wastes his paycheck playing dice, wanting to buy Emma some jewelry, and then walks out on another job after punching his boss. Feeling a lack of hope of ever being able to live a normal life, Nick decides to return to his old ways, sticking to his motto: "Live fast, die young, and have a good-looking corpse." He leaves Emma, even after she tells him that she is pregnant. After he commits a botched hold-up at a train station, he returns to Emma so as to take her with him as he flees. He finds that she had committed suicide by gas from an open oven door.

Morton's strategy in the courtroom is to argue that slums breed criminals and that society is partly to blame for crimes committed by people who are forced to live in such miserable conditions. Morton argues that Romano is more a victim of society than a natural-born killer. Yet, his strategy does not have the desired effect on the jury, thanks to the badgering of the seasoned and experienced District Attorney Kernan (George Macready), who delivers question after question until Nick shouts out his admission of guilt. Morton, who actually believed in his client's innocence, is shocked by Nick's confession. Nick decides to change his plea to guilty. During the sentencing hearing, Morton manages to arouse sympathy for the plight of those trapped by birth and circumstance in a dead-end existence. He pleads that if you "knock on any door" you may find a Nick Romano. Nevertheless, Nick is sentenced to die in the electric chair. Morton visits Nick prior to the execution and watches him walk the last mile to his just reward.





Producer Mark Hellinger purchased the rights to Knock on Any Door (a novel by the African American novelist Willard Motley) and Humphrey Bogart and Marlon Brando were to star in the production. However, after Hellinger died in late 1947, Robert Lord and Bogart formed a corporation to produce the film: Santana Productions, named after Bogart's private sailing yacht.[4] Jack L. Warner was reportedly furious at this, fearing that other stars would do the same and major studios would lose their power.[citation needed]

According to critic Hal Erickson, the often-repeated credo spoken by the character Nick Romano--"Live fast, die young, and have a good-looking corpse"—would become the "clarion call for a generation of disenfranchised youth."[5]


Critical response[edit]

Treating criminality with kid gloves and blaming law abiding society for its ills didn't go over well with the public or the critics. Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, called the film "a pretentious social melodrama" and blasted the film's message and the screenplay. He wrote, "Rubbish! The only shortcoming of society which this film proves is that it casually tolerates the pouring of such fraudulence onto the public mind. Not only are the justifications for the boy's delinquencies inept and superficial, as they are tossed off in the script, but the nature and aspect of the hoodlum are outrageously heroized."[6]

The staff at Variety magazine was more receptive of the film, writing: "An eloquent document on juvenile delinquency, its cause and effect, has been fashioned from Knock on Any Door...Nicholas Ray's direction stresses the realism of the script taken from Willard Motley's novel of the same title, and gives the film a hard, taut pace that compels complete attention."[7]


In 1960 a sequel to the film, Let No Man Write My Epitaph, was produced and directed by Philip Leacock starring Burl Ives, Shelley Winters, James Darren, Ella Fitzgerald, among others.[8] It was based on the 1958 novel of the same name by Willard Motley.


  1. ^ "Top Grossers of 1949". Variety. 4 January 1950. p. 59.
  2. ^ Slide, Anthony. Lost Gay Novels: A Reference Guide to Fifty Works from the First Half of the Twentieth Century by , pages 135-136, 1st edition, 2003. Binghamton, NY: Harrington Park Press. ISBN 1-56023-413-X.
  3. ^ McCarty, Clifford (1966). Bogey - The Films of Humphrey Bogart (1st ed.). New York, N.Y.: Cadillac Publishing Co., Inc. p. 147.
  4. ^ Silver, Alain, and Elizabeth Ward, eds. Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style; film noir synopsis and analysis of Knock on Any Door by Blake Lucas and Alain Silver, page 162, 3rd edition, 1992. Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-479-5.
  5. ^ Knock on Any Door at AllMovie.
  6. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, January 23, 1949. Last accessed: December 9, 2007.
  7. ^ Variety, film review, January 1, 1949. Last accessed: December 9, 2007.
  8. ^ Let No Man Write My Epitaph at IMDb.

External links[edit]