Joseph L. Mankiewicz (director)
11 June 2018 (released)
14 June 2018
This intense racial drama from 1950 was directed by Oscar-winning Joseph L. Mankiewicz, perhaps best known for ALL ABOUT EVE which was made that same year. NO WAY OUT marks the movie debut of Sidney Poitier who also plays the lead in this thought-provoking affair.
NO WAY OUT, co-written with Lesser Samuels (Mankiewicz, with a little help from brother Herman, had started his career as a scriptwriter) explores ground a little more controversial and as such has less appeal than the multi-award winning showbiz epic that is ALL ABOUT EVE.
Here we have Sir Sidney Poitier (not many Americans have received a knighthood from the British Queen) as Dr. Luther Brooks, a decent young intern who has just passed his state board examination to practice. Perhaps understandably a little lacking in confidence, he asks his superior Dr Dan Wharton (Stephen McNally), who is a liberal with a dislike for racism, if he can stay on at the hospital for another year. Wharton is only too glad to have him on board, after all Brooks is a good doctor! Little does Brooks know that his nightmare, by a little stroke of misfortune, is just about to begin for minutes later, two pea-brained thugs - the brothers Ray and Johnny Biddle - are admitted to the hospital. They have been caught in a robbery and both have been shot in the leg. The Biddles come from an impoverished white working class neighbourhood called Beaver Canal where it goes without saying racism is rife and thus both brothers are prime exponents of the 'disease'. Luther immediately suspects that feverish Johnny (Dick Paxton) has a brain tumour. Whilst attending the worthless brothers, Luther is subjected no end to racist slurs from the near psychotic Ray (Richard Widmark doing his psycho number again). Or are the Biddle Brothers themselves just victims? Oh yes, make no mistake! Ray IS a victim - if you hadn't already guessed it his pathetic end speech will supply the obvious answer!
Nonetheless, the good Dr. Brooks (supposedly they all have to go by the Hippocratic oath) ignores the ceaseless insults. Quite frankly could any of us have blamed him if he'd walked away and asked for a 'white' doctor to tend to this pair of morons? It can only get worse; Luther injects something into Johnny in an attempt to save his life and Johnny dies as a result of it. We all know what Ray’s reaction will be: another litany of racist cant accusing Dr. Brooks of deliberately murdering his brother. In fact it may have saved everyone a lot of trouble if he had murdered the pair of them. There is only one way Dr. Brooks can prove his innocence and that is by way of an autopsy. But to do so he needs the consent of a family member and does anyone really think Ray is going to allow anyone to 'cut up’ and butcher's his brother's corpse? Even if there is an autopsy… as Dr. Wharton says Luther could have made a mistake. Enter Edie Johnson (Linda Darnell), Johnny’s widow… or so Dr. Brooks and Dr. Wharton think. Upon visiting her in the hope that she – as a family member - may give her consent for the autopsy they are disappointed to learn that Edie had been divorced from Johnny for some time and really, she hates the entire clan and that’s that. Well not quite for thanks to Dr. Wharton’s charm Edie has a change of heart and secretly visits Ray in the hospital to talk him into giving his consent. No price for guessing that Ray keeps on insisting his brother would still be alive were he treated by a white doctor! Sensing that there is no way out of the dilemma, Dr. Brooks decides to make a very brave decision indeed… it is a decision which inadvertently cause events to spiral out of control…
This film effectively made the steadfast Poitier into a star and as for Widmark, he always excelled in this area. Himself a qualified drama teacher, Widmark could just as well have played Stephen McNally's part but it would have been less interesting. Linda Darnell also adds good support as Ray's understanding sister-in-law Edie (why on earth did she marry Johnny Biddle in the first place?). A brave film and also somewhat controversial at the time! But we can ask ourselves: have attitudes changed that much in 68 years?
Also included are some Bonus features including a 103 min long docu (in two parts) about director Mankiewicz.