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Directed by Nicholas Ray

United States 1949 100 mins.

Nearing the end of a highly productive era at Warner Brothers, Humphrey Bogart started his own company, Santana Productions, and gave the young Nicholas Ray—who impressed Bogart on the strength of the as-yet-unreleased They Live by Night—a major opportunity to direct the first film for the fledgling company. The product is this taut “law noir” that sees Bogart in good-guy territory, playing lawyer Andrew Morton who is determined to free Nick Romano (John Derek), a young criminal who shoots a cop in the heat of the moment after a string of petty crimes and personal tragedy. Morton, himself made good after a childhood spent on the hard streets of New York City, sees larger societal problems at play, with Nick—and others like him—the victim. However, George Macready’s by-the-book district attorney stands in the way. Far ahead of its time in its critique of institutional power and the death of the American Dream, Knock on Any Door slots into Ray’s filmography as an under-appreciated gem.