No Way Out (1950) 🇺🇸

Sidney Poitier, Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell |

December 09, 2021

Picture of the Month

Everything Darryl Zanuck failed to do in “Pinky” — and I persist in thinking that that wasn’t a very effective picture — he’s made up for in No Way Out. Here is a film so brave, and uncompromising, and emotionally racking, they’ll say it isn’t “entertainment.”

According to one of the more romantic poets, “truth is beauty,” but life isn’t poetry, and sometimes truth stinks, and Mr. Zanuck has faced that fact squarely, and still told the truth.

The story of No Way Out concerns a rabid young man (Richard Widmark), a small-time hoodlum, who’s brought into a hospital after a holdup. He and his brother are supposed to be treated by a young colored doctor, but Widmark, who could give the Klan lessons in Negro-baiting, starts torturing the doctor (Sidney Poitier), and when his brother dies, Widmark blames the doctor, and swears to get even with him. There are many other characters involved.

The white doctor (Stephen McNally) who’s the colored boy’s friend.

The white girl (Linda Darnell) who once loved Widmark, and was married to his brother, and who’s spent her whole life trying to get out of the slums.

In part, the picture’s a study of poverty, and the hatreds that spring from the bitter soil of poverty, and ignorance and fear. Its characters are living, breathing, three-dimensional people. Widmark is mean, vicious, contemptible, and yet, in the scene where he’s wounded, and reliving his painful childhood, and he screams out about the colored doctor, “Why should I love him — who ever loved me?” you feel a terrible surge of pity for him because he is, after all, so tragically human.

Technically, the picture’s superb. There’s a scene in a junk yard, for instance, of a gang of whites getting ready for a race riot, milling around, banging pieces of metal, stumbling and scrambling in the darkness, when suddenly the Negroes, who’ve found out about the oncoming attack, throw up a flare. For a couple of seconds, there’s blinding light, and absolute silence. The scene has impact that many a pure suspense film could envy.

There’s so much to say about No Way Out. The flawless acting of the huge cast — Widmark’s performance comes very close to sheer genius — the refusal of director and producer to pull punches. All the vile words are there — nigger, sambo, coon, boogie, and the ending isn’t full of sweetness and light, either. It isn’t even melodramatic. The colored doctor patches up Widmark, the mad dog who’s tried to kill him, and all he says is, “Don’t worry, white boy, you’ll live.”

This is a picture which understands men and needs to be understood by them. This is a picture which hates nothing but hate. Frederick O’Neal, head of The American Negro Theatre, has said of it: “No Way Out should provide the greatest step forward in the fight against racial prejudice since the Civil War. It touches the heart. It reflects the conscience of the American people.”

Hoodlum Richard Widmark is brought to County Hospital with his brother after they’ve been shot in a holdup. Widmark’s brother dies. Widmark accuses Dr. Sidney Poitier of murder, swears to get revenge.

To prove his innocence, Poitier wants an autopsy on Widmark’s brother. With Dr. Stephen McNally, he visits widow Darnell. She refuses them.

In his attempts to get even, Widmark instigates a race riot and sets a trap for Poitier. Just as he’s about to kill Poitier, Linda Darnell enters.

Linda turns off the lights, Widmark’s shot goes wild. His former wound begins to bleed. “Don’t cry, white boy,” says Poitier. “You’ll live.”

Source: Modern Screen, October 1950