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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

No Way Out (1950)
(Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)


Starring: Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell, Stephen McNally and Sidney Poitier
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £17.99 (Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 11 June 2018

When a couple of local thugs are brought into the local hospital to be treated for gunshot wounds, they are treated by recently qualified, Dr Luther Brooks. Brooks notices that one of the men’s presentation is odd and thinking that there might be something wrong with his brain, he performs a spinal tap. When the patient dies his racist brother, Ray Biddle, accuses the coloured Brooks of murder…

No Way Out (1950. 1 hr, 46 min, 34 sec) is a drama directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz who co-wrote the script with Lesser Samuels.

With the changing mores of society some films can be harder to watch than they were when first released. The film deals with the subject of racism in a very ‘in your face’ way. I don’t pretend to know the level of racism levelled at one half of American society against the other. Segregation was still legal in many states and it would be another thirteen years before Martin Luther King Jr would march on Washington to deliver his ‘I have a dream’ speech. In this environment maybe, it was required to hit the audience over the head with a very blunt instrument to get through the institutionalised racism. For a modern audience not so used to seeing essentially hate speech in cinema films, the language has lost none of its power to appal.

A lot of this is down to Richard Widmark’s performance as Ray Biddle the unrepentant racist who, first objects to a coloured doctor treating his brother and then blames him for his brother’s death thinking that Dr Brooks (Sidney Poitier) has done it deliberately.

Poitier's Brooks does what he can to withstand the torrent of abuse. Some of his white colleagues are staunch in his defence, others not so much. When the spinal tap seems to kill the patient, Brooks is convinced that he had a brain tumour, but the hospital will not allow an autopsy without the agreement of the family and Ray Biddle is in no mood to help a coloured doctor out.

Brooks and his boss try to track down the dead man’s wife, Edie Johnson (Linda Darnell), only to discover that she had divorced him. She agrees to visit Bibble only for the audience to discover that she had had an extra marital affair in the past. Rather than convince Biddle to agree to the autopsy, Biddle convinces her to return to their neighbourhood to gather men together to attack the coloured side of town. But their plans do not remain a secret and Brooks's neighbours decide to take the law into their own hands and attack first, setting the stage for an all-out race war.

One of the more admirable things about this intelligent script is that it shows that intolerance and prejudice exists on both sides of the colour divide, although more of it is directed towards Poitier's character. This was only his second feature and you can see in his performance that he was a star in the making. The whole film is like watching a car crash, at the same time compelling and repulsive.

You can play the film with or without English subtitles and given its age it comes with some nice extras. The film has a full-length audio commentary from Eddie Muller, an American writer on film. Its intelligently informative and well worth a listen.

You also get All About Mankiewicz - Part 1 (53 min, 50 sec) and 2 (52 min, 42 sec) which has the writer/director talking about his life and work. Next there are the two Fox Movietone Newsreels (59 sec), the first covers the opening of the film, the second sees Widmark getting his hands concreted into the pavement in Hollywood. Lastly you have the Original Theatrical Trailer (2 min, 35 sec).

It remains a powerful if uncomfortable watch, having lost none of its power to shock even after all these years.


Charles Packer

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