Who’s That Knocking At My Door was Martin Scorsese’s debut film in 1967, and he wouldn’t make another until the Roger Corman-funded Boxcar Bertha. He worked as an editor on some documentaries in-between, most notably Woodstock.
His first film, however, introduces all the hallmarks and obsessions that Scorsese would have throughout his career. It’s set in the Italian-American community Scorsese grew up in and stars Harvey Keitel, who is makes his first film appearance here as J.R. It’s heavily influenced by the French New Wave of the time, but also by the films John Cassavetes was making, mainly Shadows. Another evident influence was Kenneth Anger, as among other things it uses sourced songs—now one of Scorsese’s trademarks, but Anger’s Scorpio Rising was one of the first films to use this tactic.
J.R. falls in love with a sort of proto-manic pixie dream girl played by Zina Bethune, who has a dark secret that sends J.R. into a rage. Scorsese and his Catholic upbringing has always played a massive role in his films, and there is an important scene here with J.R. trying to find solace within the Church. It’s obviously about Scorsese’s own complicated relationship with his faith, as he almost was a priest before he became a filmmaker. He would later make Silence and The Last Temptation of Christ as his most overt statements on faith in very different ways. Harvey Keitel’s character is also a predecessor to the complex, conflicted men Scorsese would later portray in his films.
It is, however, a naive take on the themes of violence and masculinity that Scorsese would go back to throughout his career. He was a guy in his early 20s when the film was made, though, and it was put together over the space of a few years when he has the money. This gives it a slightly jagged feel, which fits the French New Wave influence but also comes from the fact that it was slightly compiled from a short film Scorsese made as well. It’s a real testament to Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing that the film even works as well as it does. The result is rather like a series of vignettes.
An early form of Who’s That Knocking At My Door was sold to an exploitation distributor, so they wanted some sex. As a result, a frankly ludicrous sex scene was dropped in and set to The Doors’ “The End,” more than a decade before its definitive use in the opening of Apocalypse Now. Luckily for Scorsese, back then you could get away without paying for music rights, or the costs were extremely low. The scene was a last-minute addition shot in Amsterdam. With a lack of time, the director relied heavily on long takes and still photography. It was the first time he and Schoonmaker worked together, and the last in an official capacity until Raging Bull many years later due to her difficulties in getting into the film editor’s union.
The disc replicates the previous Warner Brothers release, including about half an hour of interviews which forms a partial commentary with Scorsese and his assistant on the film, Mardik Mart (Mart also co-wrote several subsequent Scorsese features, most notably Mean Streets and Raging Bull.) A short featurette about the film includes several interviews, and is accompanied by a booklet with an essay by the writer Christina Newland.