No Way Out

No Way Out ★★★½

A hard hitting, if not a little simplistic, race relations drama. Sidney Poitier, in his film debut at age 22, plays Dr. Luther Brooks a newly minted emergency room physician and Richard Widmark plays Ray Biddle a venom spewing racist stick up man that is one of Brooks’ first patients. When Biddle’s brother / hold up accomplice dies under Brooks care during a spinal tap procedure the racial hatred in Biddle and his cronies moves from simmer to boil. Typical of producer Darryl Zanuck’s enlightened message movies of the period there isn’t much room for character nuance in the Brooks and Biddle characters (Poitier and Widmark are still quite good though). I was most interested in the performance of Linda Darnell as Edie Johnson the newly widowed sister-in law of Ray Biddle, a woman caught in the middle between her Beaver Canal neighborhood allegiances and law abiding common sense. Darnell, not always the strongest actress, here expertly conveys the world weary sensibility of a woman long suffering through dead end jobs and dead end relationships with petty thugs. Also notable is a race riot sequence that Joseph L. Mankiewicz directs with a dynamic visual flair that’s not even hinted at in his better known film from 1950 – All About Eve. Inevitably dated, but less so than you might expect and, surprisingly especially given Mankiewicz’s other wordy films, there aren’t really any heavy handed preachy speeches. Features the screen debut of Ossie Davis, with his wife Ruby Dee also appearing. Dots Johnson, the shoe losing G.I. in Rossellini’s Paisan, plays a cynical orderly.