Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s No Way Out (1950) is a potent critique of inner city racial bigotry. The film stars Richard Widmark as embittered racist, Ray Biddle. Seems Ray and his brother George (Harry Bellaver) were up to no good when a policeman pumped a couple of bullets into their legs.
Assigned to the county hospital for treatment, Ray comes face to face with his worst nightmare – being at the mercy of a black physician, Dr. Luther Brooks (Sidney Poitier in his brilliant screen debut). Though Brooks works diligently to save George’s life he is unsuccessful. Ray vows revenge and Luther is left to question his own conscience. Did the racial slurs Ray hurled at him prior to treating George cause a momentary lapse in his medical assessment – in other words, did he deliberately let George die?
Only an autopsy will confirm for certain. But Ray won’t sanction the ‘cutting up’ of his brother. Together with his compassionate chief of residents, Dr. Dan Wharton (Stephen McNally), Luther appeals to George’s estranged wife, Edie (Linda Darnell). Edie must struggle to find the truth and compassion within her. But is it already too late? Ray has escaped from the county hospital and he’s gunning for Luther.
Mankiewicz’s writing and direction keep this brooding melodrama taut and compelling throughout. To those who have never seen this film be forewarned: it uses the ‘N’ word and other racial slurs quite liberally, though never superfluously – rather to illustrate the point that racism in all its forms is ugly, dangerous and should never be tolerated in a free and just society.
Fox Home Video has classified this film as part of their ‘noir series.’ Though it does have elements of the noir style, for the most part it is an intense melodrama and social critique – not a film noir. The B&W image is quite solid, with deep blacks, relatively clean whites and nicely balanced contrast levels. Fine details are evident throughout. Occasionally there is a hint of edge enhancement and some very minor shimmering of fine details but nothing that will distract. Age related artifacts are kept to a bare minimum. Extras include a rather lack luster audio commentary, a stills gallery and theatrical trailer - recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)