George Macready

Knock on Any Door (1949, Nicholas Ray)

Knock on Any Door opens with Humphrey Bogart, then heads into a lengthy flashback detailing the life of young thug John Derek. Bogart’s his attorney, defending him on a murder rap; Bogart’s opening statement leads to the flashback. It’s a lengthy flashback, introducing not just Derek but Bogart and the assorted Skid Row denizens who will show up again on the witness stand.

There’s only one significant problem with the flashback, which is otherwise well-directed and beautifully photographed by Burnett Guffey. It’s Derek. He’s awful. Director Ray doesn’t do particularly well with his actors. Bogart’s either fine or excellent, but he doesn’t need any help. Derek clearly needs a lot of it and Ray instead focuses on his “pretty boy” looks (including in an awful jump cut at the finish).

The filmmaking is effective enough–and exploitative enough–to make Derek sympathetic to some degree. Particularly when he’s ruining his pretty young wife’s life (Allene Roberts in an under-directed, thankless performance). Roberts isn’t great but she can carry it. Derek’s just too shallow.

Except then the film finally gets to trial–an hour or so in–and it turns out most of Door is pretty shallow. Ray also gets a questionable performance out of George Macready as the awful prosecutor. Ray pushes too hard to make Macready unlikable and it hurts the film. Ray already does better with the flashback sequences (and an outstanding setup) than he does with the trial directing. Macready and Bogart bickering just gets annoying, especially since it turns out Ray and his screenwriters are just throwing red herrings like they’re putting it into fishie chowder.

Bogart does get a great lawyer monologue, but it’s problematic not just in terms of the narrative but also in how the film turns in on itself. It’s such a severe disconnect, it doesn’t matter Derek was awful in a flashback running over half of the runtime. Manipulation trumps bad acting most times.

There are some solid supporting turns, all uncredited. Except Barry Kelley’s judge. He brings a lot of gravitas to the trial scenes, something Macready and director Ray do not.

Mostly great editing from Viola Lawrence, especially in the flashback sequences and the opening setup. Great sets, almost mediocre music (from George Antheil).

I wish I was more disappointed about Knock on Any Door, but it’s so lacking in sincerity, I can’t muster it.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Ray; screenplay by Daniel Taradash and John Monks Jr., based on the novel by Willard Motley; director of photography, Burnett Guffey; edited by Viola Lawrence; music by George Antheil; produced by Robert Lord; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Andrew Morton), John Derek (Nick Romano), Allene Roberts (Emma), Candy Toxton (Adele Morton), George Macready (Dist. Atty. Kerman) and Barry Kelley (Judge Drake).

The Back of Beyond (1955, Arthur Ripley)

The Back of Beyond has perfectly good production values–it takes place in the West Indies, at a British protectorate island (it’s a Maugham adaptation, where else would it take place)–but director Ripley doesn’t have much going for him.

It’s a play on TV, sure, but he doesn’t know when to use his close-ups and when not to use them. He’s got a fine lead in Alexis Smith as an unfaithful wife (cavorting with her husband’s assistant) and George Macready is great as the husband. Even though Ripley’s direction lacks subtlety, the strange relationship between the couple comes through in the performances.

And Smith does get one rather good monologue towards the end.

Once it becomes clear nothing interesting is going to happen in Beyond, it becomes tiresome. There are all sorts of innuendoes no one ever delivers; Ripley’s not an imaginative director. His actors are good though.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Arthur Ripley; teleplay by Frederick Brady, based on a story by W. Somerset Maugham; director of photography, George E. Diskant; edited by Samuel E. Beetley; produced by Warren Lewis.

Starring Alexis Smith (Violet Saffrey), George Macready (Roger Saffrey), Robin Hughes (Tom Clark), John Hamilton (Fraser), Leonard Mudie (Gannon) and Victor Sen Yung (Peng).


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