Thursday, May 05, 2022

Tonight's Movie: No Way Out (1950) at the Noir City Film Festival

My first two films at the 2022 Noir City Film Festival on April 15th and 16th were THE ARGYLE SECRETS (1948) and THE PROWLER (1951).

On Sunday evening, the 17th, I returned to the Hollywood Legion Theater for the festival's final double bill, consisting of NO WAY OUT (1950) and THE BREAKING POINT (1950). Like the films seen previously in the weekend, both movies were first-time watches for me.

It was a particularly special evening as a few friends arrived in town early for the TCM Classic Film festival and were able to also catch the final night of Noir City!

Both Sunday evening films, like THE PROWLER, were quite bleak. First off was NO WAY OUT, with Richard Widmark playing a racist crook, Ray Biddle. Ray and his brother Johnny (Dick Paxton) are in a hospital prison ward when Johnny dies.

Ray blames Dr. Luther Brooks (Sidney Poitier, in his first major role), who was treating Johnny at the time, for his brother's death, and he also harps incessantly, in the nastiest terms possible, on the fact that Dr. Brooks is black.

Dr. Brooks wants an autopsy to confirm his diagnosis of Johnny and prove he didn't kill him, but Ray won't consent, and Johnny's ex-wife Edie (Linda Darnell) no longer has legal authority to approve it.

Things quickly get ugly as the incident prompts a local riot...and Ray is determined to find a way to make Dr. Brooks pay for his brother's death.

NO WAY OUT has an interesting story and an excellent cast, including Stephen McNally as Dr. Brooks' mentor, but it can be quite difficult to watch at times. The audience must watch Poitier, playing an admirable young doctor, go through steady, very personal abuse, including language which is guaranteed to make the modern viewer wince repeatedly. It's also hard to watch Darnell's character being physically brutalized at one juncture.

Widmark absolutely sells his loathsome character, though we're assured that off the screen Widmark was an outstanding person who was good friends with Poitier for decades. Small wonder that Widmark was interested in playing more positive roles after a run of parts which also included KISS OF DEATH (1947), ROAD HOUSE (1948), and NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950) in a very short time frame. He was excellent in each film, but what a list of characters to inhabit!

Poitier excels as a doctor who is not yet completely confident in his skills despite his outstanding record and the encouragement of his boss, Dr. Wharton (McNally). I liked that Dr. Brooks was presented as having a slight chink in his armor, in terms of needing more confidence, as it made the character more realistic and believable. The profession is stressful enough without the added burden of dealing with racism, but one feels that in the end he'll only end up a stronger man.

Linda Darnell never fails to impress. A look at her filmography shows a rather amazing list of outstanding films, and I feel she's never received the recognition she should for her contributions to those movies, though perhaps that's starting to change. She represents a character midway between Brooks and Biddle, a downtrodden woman with backwards ideas who begins to understand that a different life and different ways of thinking are possible.

I always like McNally, but while it's a nice role as far as it goes, his character is sent out of town at a key moment. I felt his exit from the film left a bit of a hole. I also particularly liked Amanda Randolph (sister of actress Lillian Randolph) as his outspoken housekeeper.

In the end, NO WAY OUT is not exactly an entertaining 106 minutes, as it's quite stressful, but it's worthwhile. It's not a film I would rewatch with any frequency, given the subject matter, but I'm glad I saw it, particularly to have a better understanding of the careers of several actors I admire.

NO WAY OUT was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz from a script by Mankiewicz and Lesser Samuels, along with the uncredited Philip Yordan. It was filmed in black and white by Milton Krasner. The score was by Alfred Newman.

The supporting cast includes Mildred Joanne Smith, Stanley Ridges, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Ray Teal, Ken Christy, Ian Wolfe, and Will Wright.

NO WAY OUT is available on DVD as No. 13 in the Fox Film Noir series. The DVD includes a commentary track by Eddie Muller.

As a side note, this film has no connection with the 1987 Kevin Costner film of the same name, which is actually a remake of THE BIG CLOCK (1948).


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