No Way Out

No Way Out

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No Way Out was Hollywood golden boy Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s buffer project between his two Oscar-snagging instant masterpieces A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve. In retrospect, it’s nice to think that Mank worked himself through the post-Academy Award pressure to prove himself a serious direc-tah by tackling a serious drah-mah. It’s a relief to reckon that he got away with the full slate of racial slurs—from “nigger” to “coon,” this one’s got them all covered—leaving his vocabulary to roam free range for All About Eve. But it’s also ironic to consider that he reserved most of his fire and music for the backstabbing actresses of All About Eve and not the movie that has a bona fide race riot as a centerpiece. No Way Out borrows the template for socially conscious filmmaking from both Gentlemen’s Agreement and Crossfire: it’s half noir, half sermon. Sidney Poitier makes his debut screen performance as Dr. Luther Brooks, a black (and green) medical intern at a county hospital that sits one neighborhood over from the city’s run-down, racist shantytown. When said neighborhood’s two Biddle brothers, Ray and Johnny, are wheeled into the prison ward after a botched robbery attempt, Johnny dies as his superficially wounded brother Ray (Richard Widmark, stalwart pre-Method magician as per usual) looks on. Though Brooks claims that his death was seemingly caused by a brain tumor, he needs an autopsy to confirm his suspicions, and unapologetic racist Ray intends to use his status as next of kin to block anything that might exonerate the black man he swears committed murder. The only recourse for Brooks and the hospital’s chief medical resident Dr. Dan Wharton (Stephen McNally, playing the requisite non-racist white dogoodnick with all the bland inoffensiveness required to not alienate latent racists) is to get Johnny’s ex-wife (Linda Darnell) to persuade Ray of their case. She unwittingly unleashes more violence and miscommunication, which is where the noir element comes into play: women of ill-repute, no matter how well-intentioned, are typically the doorway to chaos and corruption. Mankiewicz’s setup is a solid, writerly premise, but one that forces him, as a director, to meticulously construct three major theaters of exposition (and a few minor ones as well). This patience pays off spectacularly in his theatrical All About Eve, but frustrates in a noir context when tightness is of the essence.

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DVD
Distributor
20th Century Fox
Runtime
105 min
Rating
NR
Year
1950
Director
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenwriter
Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Lesser Samuels
Cast
Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell, Stephen McNally, Sidney Poitier, Mildred Joanne Smith, Harry Bellaver, Stanley Ridges, Dots Johnson, Amanda Randolph, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis