Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Don't Bother to Knock (1952)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Don't Bother to Knock (1952)

Roy Ward Baker's film noirish thriller (his first American film) was sex-pot Marilyn Monroe's 12th credited film but was her first dramatic starring role. In fact, three of Monroe's early roles were in dark and demanding dramas, including two others: Clash By Night (1952) and Niagara (1953) (see later). It was released shortly after the news of her scandalous nude appearance in a calendar photo-shoot. In this film, she starred as a shapely blonde named Nell Forbes, who was revealed to be a very disturbed baby-sitter in a hotel room. A tagline for the film described her:

"...a wicked sensation as the lonely girl in Room 809!"

The film opened in NYC's ritzy McKinley Hotel, where the hotel's lounge-singer Lyn Lesley (Anne Bancroft in her debut film) in the Round-Up Room wondered if her ex-boyfriend, Skyways Airlines pilot Jed Towers (Richard Widmark), would show up to speak with her, since she had recently ended their six-month relationship with a letter ("I invited him not to see me anymore"). She had written him: "This is the end of the line for us." Jed had already registered at the hotel and was in his room. The tough and cynical, newly-single male was smoking and contemplating whether to go to the bar and speak to Lyn, when he heard her crooning voice in the bar piped into his room through a wall radio-speaker.

Shy and young Nell Forbes (Marilyn Monroe) entered the hotel's outer revolving doors and stood outside the bar area. She met up with her uncle, the hotel's amiable elevator operator Eddie Forbes (Elisha Cook Jr.), who had suggested her for a baby-sitting job for one of the guests' young daughters for the evening: "You won't have any trouble with her, will you, Nell?" She had been in NY for only a few weeks.

The slightly pushy Eddie introduced Nell to hotel guests, newspaper editorial writer Peter Jones (Jim Backus) and his wife Ruth (Lurene Tuttle) - the parents of an 8 year-old girl named Bunny (Donna Corcoran). The inexperienced Nell was hired to be a babysitter for one night for their daughter in their hotel room #809, while the parents attended an awards ceremony event in the hotel's banquet ballroom. Before putting Bunny to bed, Nell read her a fairy-tale story, using a monotone voice.

Meanwhile, Jed came down to the bar area to speak to Lyn, where she dumped him after a six-month relationship by telling him outright: "I wouldn't want to marry you....It's something to do with the way you are." She saw no future with him in mostly weekend get-togethers up until then, and was turned off by his coldness. She calmly and starkly criticized his faults: "The way you treat people. The way you think about them. All you can focus on is the cold outside of things. The simple facts. Not any causes or whys or wherefores. Oh, you're sweet and you're fun. And you're hard. And you lack something that I ask for in a man...An understanding heart." He retreated from his former lover to his hotel room #821 - to further sulk and pace the floor.

Left alone in the parents' room on the 8th floor, Nell sampled Ruth's 'Liaison' perfume, and wore her bracelet and earrings. She also tried on Ruth's lacy negligee and fuzzy slippers. More disturbingly, she also flirted with the voyeuristic hotel guest Jed Towers in his room, who saw her from a hotel room window across the courtyard, as she closed and then opened her venetian window blinds to signal him. On the rebound and thinking she was available and willing, he telephoned and asked: "Are you doing anything you couldn't be doing better with somebody else?" Calling himself a "lonely soul," he suggested bringing over a bottle of rye: "I'll come over, and we'll spin a few stories. How about it?"

Jed's First Look Across the Courtyard at Nell
Jed: "Are you doing anything you couldn't be doing better with somebody else?"
Nell Flirting With Voyeuristic Jed by Phone

Soon enough, the flirtatious, voluptuous blonde invited the hotel guest over. She applied lipstick just before he arrived, revealing suicidal razor scars on both wrists, and also readjusted her stockings. Bringing over his bottle of rye, he met up with her at her door: "Be neighborly. Ask me in."

During their conversation, the emotionally-unstable Nell lied about how she was another hotel guest with her sister (and her out-of-town husband). The initials on the luggage and the presence of a pair of men's shoes were clues to her deception. When he told her he was an airline pilot, she mistakenly believed he was her ex-boyfriend/fiancee Philip - a military aviator who died while flying an airplane to Hawaii in 1946: ("You crashed in the the ocean in '46 on the way to Hawaii. But you weren't killed, you were only lost!...You were rescued! You came back!"). She kissed Jed, thankful that he had returned to her. Their conversations disturbed and woke up the child, who intruded upon their intimacy.

"Be Neighborly. Ask me in"
Nell Kissing Jed, Thinking He Was Philip (Her Deceased Ex-Boyfriend)
Bunny's Intrusion After Waking Up
Nell's Abuse Toward Bunny

The disruptions led to confusion, and unbalanced and threatening behavior exhibited by Nell towards the young child. Nell ordered Bunny back to her bedroom, but she refused. Bunny even accused Nell and the strange man of stealing her parents' things: "You're a gang. That's what you are. You came to steal my Mother's things...You take off my mother's dress!...You can't make me do anything!"

Jed began to realize Nell's flakiness and pathological lying: "You know, you’re a gal with a lot of variations." He also witnessed that Nell was threatening toward Bunny (who was interfering with their evening), and was about to push her out the window ("You won't cry any more, will you?"). The startling incident was also witnessed by nosy, puritanical Emma Ballew (Verna Felton), a long-term hotel resident. As Nell put Bunny to bed, she warned the young girl: "It's wicked to come between people." She also threatened harm to Bunny's favorite doll at home named Josephine if she caused any more trouble: ("Don't utter one sound. And we'll all live happily ever after, you and Josephine and me").

During her private time with Jed (that included kissing, drinking, and flirting), Nell neglected her responsibility for Bunny, and insisted on being with Jed ("Let's dance. Take me down to that bar") when he proposed leaving. She boldly told him:

"I'll be any way you want me to be....I belong with you...Even before you came over here, I knew...Every time you looked at me, I wanted to kiss you, like now."

Nell's dangerous sexuality and psychotic delusional state showed her to be suicidal when he noticed the razor scars on her wrists. She explained the circumstances: ("I did it with a razor...when Philip was given up for lost....I was in another hotel room once. The night before he flew out over the ocean the last time. He said we'd be married when he came back").

When Eddie arrived to check up on Nell, he noted that she had been drinking: ("You smell like a cooch dancer"), that she was restless ("You're ticking like a clock"), and that she had recurring mental issues ("I thought you were getting better...I should have known better, you're NOT cured!"). [Note: Nell had just been released a month earlier after three years as a patient at an Oregon mental institution following her suicide attempt.] He ordered her to remove all items of clothing and jewelry (and her lipstick), but then suspected that she was hiding someone in the bathroom (Jed). As he went to investigate, Eddie was hit over the head by Nell with a large metal ashtray. Jed helped to treat Eddie's serious head injury.

As Jed was proposing to leave to patch things up with his former girlfriend Lyn ("tonight I've got a problem of my own to settle"), Nell again thought that he was Philip who was deserting her: ("Maybe you won't ever come back...What would become of me?"). At the same time, Emma and her husband came to the room, as Eddie hid in the closet when they entered, and Jed snuck into Bunny's bedroom, where he saw that she had been bound and gagged by Nell. The meddling couple suspected that Jed (who they had seen leaving the room by a 2nd adjoining bedroom door #807) had been responsible for various disruptions - so they alerted the hotel detective.

In the bar with Lyn, Jed briefly shared his experiences with the unbalanced babysitter in the hotel room: ("She was kind of pathetic. Real steady one minute, and all mixed up the next"). She was impressed by his new caring attitude ("I never heard you talk like that before"). Meanwhile, Nell was threatening the young girl and blaming her for sending her lover Jed away: ("If only you'd given me a little longer. He was in love with me. We would've been married. You didn't want me to have him from the beginning. You wouldn't let me wear the pretty things, even when I told you about the doll...You sent those people around, you devil!").

Sensing that Bunny was in trouble while in the middle of his story with Lyn, Jed rushed back to the room, where Bunny's mother had also just entered - and screamed! Both of them were able to fight off Nell and rescue Bunny. Jed released Eddie from the locked closet, where he explained Nell's history of mental problems:

Eddie: It wasn't all my fault. They told us she was practically cured.
Jed: What do you mean? She was in an institution?
Eddie: Three years, in Oregon. She only got out last month. They said to bring her east to a new place. She seemed fine, little things maybe, until tonight. Just before she hit me, she talked weird. About Philip. That was a guy of hers, as if he were alive.

By the film's conclusion, the painfully-damaged Nell snuck away from the room and retreated to the hotel lobby where she cracked up, brandished a razor blade (stolen from a news-desk convenience counter), and threatened to slit her wrists. A reassuring Jed came up to her and she responded: "I didn't think you were ever coming back...I don't want to harm anybody." He was able to have her relinquish the razor and he talked her out of her delusions about him, by convincing her that he wasn't her lost boyfriend Philip. He pointed to Lyn, his real girlfriend: "This is my girl. I'm in love with her."

Nell was led away to a hospital for help, as Lyn observed Jed's new attitude of caring: "Jed, you care what happens to that girl, don't you?" Jed replied: "She didn't want to hurt the kid. She didn't want to hurt anybody." His new attitude set up their own reconciliation, as they left arm in arm to return to the bar for a drink together.

Lyn - Hotel Bar Singer

Nell (Marilyn Monroe) Entering Hotel Lobby

Nell with Her Uncle: Elevator Operator Eddie (Elisha Cook, Jr.)

Break-Up in Bar: Jed with Lyn

While Babysitting, Nell Tried On Hotel Guest's Jewelry - and More

Suicidal Wrist Scars

Adjusting Her Stockings

Nell Threatening the Bound and Gagged Bunny

Fighting Off Nell in the Bedroom

Nell Distraught

Suicidal Nell Brandishing a Razor Blade in Hotel Lobby

Jed Talking Nell Out of Suicide - with Lyn

Lyn and Jed Reconciled


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