Originally posted on Letterboxd
Scorsese’s first feature begins with a shot of a Catholic mother making food for her family. The image dissolves at the sight of a virgin Mary statue and cuts to a group of young men standing around talking. Pop music begins playing over the image and the men are compelled to beat up other men. It’s almost humorous how perfectly Scorsese would capture nearly every last theme he’d play around with for his entire career in the first two scenes of Who’s That Knocking at my Door?. It’s a testament to his talents as a filmmaker that he came right out of the gate knowing exactly what he wanted to say, but then Scorsese has always been an almost autobiographical filmmaker. You get the sense that Scorsese knew these people when he was growing up and both admired and feared their actions. Throughout his entire career Scorsese would romanticize violence through the usage of music only to show the horrors and repercussions of these actions later. It was a lifestyle that he never ventured into, but one he understood, because in a way he lived it. The Catholicism present here is also looming over every scene. When R.J. and the girl kiss you can see crosses in the background. When they approach the idea of sex it’s shot down when pangs of guilt overcome our protagonist. Then there is the flurry of catholic imagery that closes the film cementing RJ’s solace in god despite damning his relationship with the girl due to archaic ideas of purity and virginity.
The other thing that I find extremely interesting here is how Scorsese treats men and women. It’s the 1960s and second wave feminism is only just starting to gain any kind of traction so the climate at this time is still very much difficult for women. The idea of women’s liberation has only just started so for Scorsese to make a film that is partially about the problems women had to endure during this time when it comes to rape is something admirable. Scorsese certainly places the narrative in the hands of RJ but he gives the girl in this film the space to push back when need be and reject RJ when he blames her for her own rape. The rape scene itself is shot differently than the rest of the picture. It’s much more brutal, disorienting and the music is doubled over to create a horrific effect. This is a picture where the girl and the guy don’t end up together and it’s ultimately the woman’s choice to end the relationship, because of RJ’s horrible behaviour. She’s hurting, but she doesn’t end up saddled with RJ and that is progressive. In regards to RJ’s presence in the picture he sets up the kind of archetypical character Scorsese would create for years to come in pictures like Mean Streets, Raging Bull and Goodfellas. RJ is a gangster troubled by catholic guilt. He was very set ideas about what’s right and wrong, and how men and women should act and it’s ultimately his undoing. He still has his boys and his god, but he lost his girl which makes this film a little different from some of Scorsese’s other films.