Knock on Any Door (Nicholas Ray / U.S., 1949):

Those They Live by Night youngsters, Humphrey Bogart (because itís Dead End), "the filth and fury and jumble" of social consciousness unmoored. It kicks off with a flurry of sirens and searchlights, with the camera fastened to the side of a charging police car as the hard-luck gelhead (John Derek) is pinned down as a cop-killer. His life of poverty, botched jobs and stickups is recounted in the courtroom by the defense attorney (Bogart), who one moment visits the young hoodlumís bewildered family and guiltily taps his bosom ("Mea culpa") and in another sardonically ponders how to manipulate the stereotypes crowding the jury box ("Mix them well and shake before using"). The trajectory is from Derekís nihilistic credo ("Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse") to his plaintive plea ("I want to live"), at the center is his romance with a tremulous ragdoll (Allene Roberts) last seen about to stick her head into an oven. The courtroom perorations are drab, but Nicholas Ray takes off in the fervid slums, where old studio faces like Vince Barnett (punchy barkeep) and Jimmy Conlin (pool-hall gnome) peek from out of the smoke and shadows, wizened chiselers have names like "Junior" and "Kid Fingers" and juveniles are prematurely hardened by crime and reformatories. The resulting exposť (a file re-opened in The Big Night, Crime in the Streets, The Delinquents, The Hoodlum Priest, etc.) is a jagged cri de coeur that finds the moist punk perpetually lashing out both at Bogartís impotent paternalism and at a justice system that has George Macreadyís scarred face. Sarris deemed it "particularly bad on the Kramer-Cayatte level," while the director himself always longed for a bit of Los Olvidados. And yet, have the words "The End" ever appeared more painful on the screen? With Candy Toxton, Mickey Knox, Barry Kelley, Dewey Martin, and Sid Melton. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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