No Way Out (1950)

No Way Out (1950), directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

Two brothers shot up while committing a holdup are brought to the locked ward of the county hospital and treated by a young black doctor (Sidney Poitier). One dies unexpectedly and the surviving brother (Richard Widmark) goes berserk with racist rage. He'll inflame the city into race riots and pursue his revenge without constraint, while the doctor strives to prove that he acted responsibly. The dead man's ex-wife (Linda Darnell) is caught between the sides; doing the right thing isn't easy.

It's a combination of film noir, melodrama and message picture, the message being the evils of racism. Social statement films are perilous because they tend to lecture and risk sacrificing story for good intentions. We have moments of that here, but also enough intensity to make it worthwhile. The assembly and combat of the white and black mobs is exciting and dreadful.

It's a breakthrough film: on one hand serious dramatic roles for black actors (although the doctor's idyllic home life is "message", it does give us a look at the young Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis). On the other: previously unseen raw race hatred and a vocabulary that would make the film unbroadcastable until the cable era.

Sidney Poitier has a tremendous film debut at age 22. He was a natural. Richard Widmark is always the scariest villain of that era, raging and sneering. He really didn't want to do this film but Zanuck twisted his arm. Linda Darnell is rather good, projecting pain and confusion in her character.

Alfred Newman score.

The DVD has a commentary track by a film noir expert who appreciates the film's strengths but also points out the weak scenes. He's hot for Darnell.