23 février 1949. Le froid vent du nord pousse notre cinéphile passant dans la salle du Astor Theater, au 1537 Broadway. Un café et la critique ciné du jour plus tard, le voilà absorbé par le spectacle proposé par Knock on any Door.
Critique d’époque :
« Somehow it seems that when-even the fiction-film-makers become concerned about the responsibilities of society for the festerings of crime they find themselves making tragic heroes out of the corrupted criminals themselves – and society, as a consequence, becomes the villain in the case. That’s the cagey contortion of sympathy which they usually attempt. At least, that’s the trick they try to pull off in Knock on Any Door, a pretentiously « social » melodrama which came to the Astor yesterday.
The hero of this hot crime thriller is a « pretty-boy » hoodlum and thief who is brought to trial early in the picture on the charge of murdering a cop. Loudly the kid protests his innocence; he is being « railroaded, » he screams. And he gets a prominent lawyer to believe him and undertake his defense.
From this point on, the picture is mostly a flash-back report on the criminal career of the prisoner, as the lawyer recounts it to the court. The kid, it seems, became a hoodlum after his father had died in jail because – as near as we could make it – he was embittered by this turn. Before this the lad had been a decent, home-loving, God-fearing boy. But, of course, the injustice to his father caused him to turn into a bum.
And for being a minor delinquent, the kid was tucked away in a brutal reformatory where they killed boys with frank barbarities. After this, he was thoroughly hardened, and only an idyllic love for a beautiful, innocent maiden checked his reckless career. For a brief time, he tried his hand at working, but he couldn’t get much pleasure out of that. Besides, the boss was a tyrant, and the kid needed money for his new wife. So he pulled just another teeny stick-up. Unfortunately, his wife didn’t understand. She turned on the gas and wrote her finish. Was ever a poor kid more abused!
Anyhow, that’s the case as the lawyer, whom Humphrey Bogart plays, puts it to the jury in something over an hour. And that’s the case on which the audience is supposed to acquit the kid, seeing as how nobody can shatter his plea of innoncence. But then the district attorney – a vicious, contemptible gent – brings up again that poignant business about the kid’s broken-hearted wife and so badgers and bludgeons him with it that the sensitive kid finally screams his guilt. As they lead him away to the death-house, the lawyer says society is to blame.
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.
In the good-looking person of John Derek, a newcomer, he clearly appears a decent and debonair youngster whose occasional excursions into crime, in company with other jolly fellows, are all in the nature of boyish pranks. And, in case there is any question, you should just note the soulful way he looks at Allene Roberts, who plays his virtuous sweetheart. He is plainly an idol for the girls.As for Mr. Bogart’s performance as the lawyer who champions the kid because of his own boyhood battles, it is characteristic, let us say. Mr. Bogart rather gives the impression that he is still a bit shady himself, that he is not so much interested in justice as he is in « springing » the kid. And his Greek-chorus blasts at society, spat from his twisted mouth, sound like the vituperation of a criminal about to be « burned. »But that is just one of the many inconsistencies and flip-flops in this film, produced by Robert Lord and Mr. Bogart and directed by Nicholas Ray. The whole thing appears to be fashioned for sheer romantic effect, which its gets from its « pretty-boy » killer, victim of society and blazing guns ». Par Bosley Crowther pour le New York Times.
Alors là, Bosley Crowther s’emporte ! De quel droit un cinéaste peut-il critiquer la société américaine ? De quel droit ce même cinéaste peut-il s’intéresser à un délinquant et lui trouver des circonstances atténuantes ? Inadmissible ! Nous sommes face à un crime d’Etat ! De fait, le film ne peut être bon. L’interprétation non plus.
Ma critique, plus mesurée, est disponible par ici.