Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to Watch on TCM in January 2023

Happy New Year, film lovers! I hope that your holidays were merry and bright, that you are in full recovery mode from any overindulgences, and that you’re ready to kick back and check out some time-worthy noirs and pre-Code features on TCM!

Shadowy Pick: Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

TCM is offering a number of first-rate noirs this month, including Nora Prentiss (1947), Gun Crazy (1950), and Angel Face (1952), but my choice is a film that’s seldom discussed – Don’t Bother to Knock, starring Marilyn Monroe, Richard Widmark, and Anne Bancroft (in her big screen debut). This feature offers a medley of unique and memorable characters, including Nell Forbes (Monroe), who spent three years in an asylum after attempting suicide when her boyfriend was killed in a plane crash; Nell’s uncle, Eddie (Elisha Cook, Jr.), who finds Nell a babysitting job in the hotel where he works as an elevator operator; and Jed Towers (Widmark), a cynical pilot and hotel guest who has just been dumped by his long-suffering girlfriend, Lyn (Bancroft). The lives of these four characters intertwine within the walls of the hotel, reaching a frightening climax when Nell confuses Jed with her deceased lover and accuses the young girl in her charge of coming between them.

— Uncle Eddie (Elisha Cook, Jr.) doesn’t think this babysitting gig is going so well.

The reviews for the film were mixed, with an especially muddled assessment coming from the critic for Variety, who wrote that Monroe gave an “excellent account of herself in a strictly dramatic role,” but also said that Monroe’s casting “seems an odd choice” because the role was “anything but glamorous.” The habitually acerbic Bosley Crowther of the New York Times found that Monroe played the part with a “childishly blank expression and a provokingly feeble, hollow voice,” and the critic for the Los Angeles Times declared that Monroe’s performances was “reinforced by virtually no acting resources whatsoever.” Frankly, I don’t know what film these latter two critics were looking at – their opinions sound like they’re personal rather than grounded in objectivity. In my view, Monroe turned in a touching and believable portrayal of a mentally ill woman in a constant struggle with reality. And, for what it’s worth, Anne Bancroft later said that her experience acting with Monroe was “remarkable,” adding that she “moved me so that tears came into my eyes.”

Satiny Pick: Illegal (1932)

Unlike most of the films I recommend here, I’ve only seen Illegal once, last year, when it aired on TCM. But it really made an impression. I’ll admit that I wasn’t overwhelmed in the beginning; in fact, I only had it on to provide background noise while I was working on a writing assignment. But before I knew what was happening, my writing plans fell by the proverbial wayside and I was riveted! Produced in England by Warner Bros.’ Teddington Studios, the film centers on a story of mother love in the tradition of such matriarchs as Stella Dallas and Mildred Pierce. Evelyn Dean (Isobel Elsom) is unlucky in love; when her second husband turns out to be a thoroughgoing cad, she kicks him to the curb and enters into a successful – but illegal – enterprise in order to support her two daughters. And that’s just the beginning. With a running time of just a little more than an hour, the movie manages to pack in a surfeit of pre-Codian goodies (or baddies, to be more accurate).

Pay special attention to Dorothy Turner, the more spirited and irresponsible (and interesting!) of Evelyn’s daughters. She’s played by Margot Grahame, who you may recognize from her roles in The Informer and The Three Musketeers (both 1935) and The Buccaneer (1938). Incidentally, she was cast in Forever Amber (1938), but her scenes wound up on the cutting room floor. I’d heard of Grahame before this film, but I’d never seen any of her films. Her performance in this one made me want to see more.

Tune into TCM to catch Don’t Bother to Knock on January 8th and Illegal on January 25th.

You only owe it to yourself.

~ by shadowsandsatin on January 3, 2023.

8 Responses to “Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to Watch on TCM in January 2023”

  1. You make my mouth water with the mention of Don’t Bother to Knock. I love Richard Widmark and the rest of the cast, and it frustrates me no end that I have not yet ever seen this movie. (I don’t have TCM which complicates matters).

    • Oh no, Wesley! If you’re so inclined, you can rent it for $3.99 on YouTube, Amazon Prime, or Apple TV. I hope you’ll get a chance to see it!

      • By strange coincidence, I happened to find it tonight on a streaming channel. What a fascinating movie. A lot of deeply troubled characters, that’s for sure. I thought the acting was uniformly good, and Marilyn very able channeled a sense of lostness and despair. I was mostly interested in Widmark, and he did not disappoint. My only reservation about the movie is that it left a lot aside from Bancroft/Widmark, nothing is resolved — what happens with Elisha Cook, with the young girl, and how what about the damage done to her, etc. All in all, I’m very glad I watched it. Thank you for writing about it.

        • How awesome is that — I’m so glad you found it! And I’m so glad you’re glad you watched it. You’re right, though — the info we don’t know could be a whole ‘nother movie!

  2. I really appreciate your TCM noir recommendations!

    Thanks much,

    cj

    C.J. Hirschfield https://oaklandside.org/author/c-j-hirschfield/ 510-917-6034

  3. […] her Shadows and Satin blog this week, Noir scholar Karen Burroughs Hannsberry recalls how the film’s early critics […]

  4. “Frankly, I don’t know what film these latter two critics were looking at…”

    Amen, sister.

    I’ve always loved Monroe’s performance in this picture. She’s so poignant in her unraveling, and her portrayal of the character’s struggle with profound grief is truly heartbreaking. It’s not a Marilyn film that I’d play in a loop while I’m wrapping Christmas presents or winterizing my closet (that would be GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES), but I wish she’d had more opportunities to play this type of role.

    I sadly missed ILLEGAL, but any bag of Pre- Codian baddies has a spot on my watchlist! Thanks for the skinny!!

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