Disturbed in Noir: Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) + Underworld U.S.A. (1961)

September 21, 2018 | By


I’d actually planned on having a different companion review to accompany Roy Ward Baker’s American debut Don’t Bother to Knock (1952), but Night Without Sleep (1952) remains elusive, which is a pity, because this very skilled director made some solid suspense films for Fox before heading back to England, where he helmed A Night to Remember (1958) and several Hammer and Hammer-styled horror films.

It’s quite a shame that Baker’s (apparently) never been given a detailed career bio – his work extended well into his seventies before he retired in 1992, and passed away at 93 in 2010 – but perhaps the many phases and periods of his filmography requires more research, given he also worked in TV between projects from 1962 onwards, and like Val Guest (The Quatermass Xperiment, Au Pair Girls) and Charles Crichton (The Lavender Hill MobSpace: 1999), Baker weathered the production crash that affected the country’s domestic film industry during the 1970s.

Sam Fuller, the colourful & eccentric maverick who came into his own as an auteur of tabloid crime, war, and western films, may not have been as prolific, but his provocative filmography has been examined in book form, documentaries, and in themed collections on DVD and now Blu-ray.

After a busy period with studios Fox and Columbia, Fuller’s career changed gears in the 1960s, and he found work via foreign productions, films & TV in Germany. He later returned to the U.S. to make the autobiographical WWII drama The Big Red One (1980), and the flawed but fascinating film version of Romain Gary’s White Dog (1982), which remained unreleased in North America before it popped up on cable TV in the 1990s. White Dog received a proper, legal DVD via Criterion in 2008, and the label also released his indie diptych Shock Corridor (1963) and The Naked Kiss (1964) on laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray.



It’s perhaps no surprise that Criterion’s latest release announcements this past Monday includes Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957), but the recent lovefest for this eccentric provocateur includes several Blu-ray releases by Twilight Time – namely The Crimson Kimono (1959) and Underworld U.S.A. (1961) – and a boxed set from Britain’s Indicator, titled Samuel Fuller at Columbia: 1937-1961.

I hope to dig into that monster set closer to Xmas (maybe it’ll go on special on Black Friday…), but for now, I’ve paired the two tales of disturbed characters. Underworld U.S.A. follows a punk as he infiltrates the mob to gradually knock off the men responsible for his father’s murder, and Don’t Bother to Knock has an early co-starring role for Marilyn Monroe as a babysitter whose sadness and delusions endanger a child. Both are giddy little B-movies, and benefit from fine casting, strong performances, and taut direction.

Coming next: two very liberal interpretations of Genghis Khan – Omar Sharif as the Mongol nation builder / brutal leader in the underrated Genghis Khan (1965), and… yeah… John Wayne… in the Howard Hughes-produced idiocy The Conqueror (1956), released in a nice widescreen anamorphic special edition by KOCH Media Germany on a Region 2 DVD back in 2007.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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