Monday, January 14, 2013

No Way Out. 1950

I suppose one should commend Joseph L Mankiewicz for attempting to make a movie about racism in the up tight early 1950’s and I do but I wish the film was better.  Sidney Poitier in his film debt is a young and handsome new doctor at a big city hospital working under the guidance of a liberal doctor played by the earnest but dull Stephen McNally. Poitier of course is feeling insecure and somewhat uptight what with all those looks he keeps getting from hospital workers and patients. One night two petty criminals who have just been shot while on a crime spree are brought into the ER and it turns out that they are brothers. One of them is played by Richard Widmark who is a raving racist and immediately starts in with the racial epithets directed at Poitier. Both brothers have been shot in the legs and Widmark’s brother dies while Poitier is trying to save his life. Guilt, accusations and threats follow and we are treated to some pretty bad taunts from Widmark that was shocking in its day and is still hard to handle 63 years later. The plot also introduces us to the marvelous Linda Darnell who is the dead man’s wife and a one-time lover of Widmark’s who is torn between her hatred of Widmark and her uneasy and tentative racism. As usual with Darnell she plays cheap and loose and is amazingly watchable and gorgeous. The year before she had given a wonderful performance in the director’s smart and tart “a Letter To Three Wives” but as good as she is here, there’s not much to her role. Widmark  who could be hammy and over the top in some of his roles, is a ham on rye with lots of mustard to go in this one and I wish the director had turned down the volume on him a bit. Mankiewicz throws in a race riot, family conflicts in the Poitier household. (Check out the very young Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis as family members) and way too many stereotypical characters and forced situations that cumulates in an obvious showdown between Poitier and Widmark.  Shot in black and white, the film is black and white not only metaphorically but in plot, theme and direction.  Cheap looking and cheesy in its settings the best thing about the movie is seeing the young Poitier and the classy poster campaign designed by the great Paul Rand.  Mankiewicz  did a lot  better in the fall of 1950 when his  little film about the theatre was released to great acclaim .


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