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Friday, July 24, 2015

NO WAY OUT (1950)

Even the film poster is progressive for Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s racially-charged urban drama. Sidney Poitier made a splashy debut as the new hospital staff doctor who loses a patient and gains a fierce enemy in the dead man’s brother, bigoted Richard Widmark. Playing a sort of medico-Jackie Robinson, Poitier’s main job is to keep a lid on it as he goes about his business under the wing of his white mentor Stephen McNally. Often as not, ‘daring’ socially progressive dramas date with alarming speed, but this one holds up pretty well. A big race riot for Widmark’s clan from White Trash Town and Poitier's neighborhood defenders (hey!, it’s Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee in uncredited supporting roles!) feels tacked on to add a bit of street action. And you can always count on Mankiewicz to stop dead in his tracks so we can all admire his flights of stage-worthy dialogue. But Robert Krasker’s lensing reveals visual interest whenever he gets the chance while a couple of strong perfs, an expected one from the snarling Widmark and an unexpected one from a deglamorized Linda Darnell as his ex-sister-in-law, help to keep things lively. (NOTE: A Family Friendly, not a Kiddie Friendly rating. Lots of 'N' words in here: 'Nigger' and the even more rarely heard 'Negro.' And 'coon,' just for good measure. Teenagers of all races: Discuss.)

DOUBLE-BILL/SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Five years later, Poitier regressed into high school for BLACKBOARD JUNGLE/’55.

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