Seminal Image #101
No Way Out
(Joseph L. Mankiewicz; 1950)
At least one universe away from "All About Eve" and "A Letter to Three Wives", Joseph Mankiewicz's "No Way Out" is still, despite a marginal cop-out of an ending, one of the bravest films to come out of Hollywood. In an era (and from a studio; 20th Century-Fox) where above-the-line Social Consciousness films were of the "Pinky"/"Gentleman's Agreement" variety . . . movies about racism and anti-semitism designed not to offend either racists or anti-semites . . . "No Way Out" wasn't looking to "understand" what lay beneath white bigotry (as if that were mitigating or even relevant), it sought to take a flame-thrower to it.
The first American film to portray white bigots using the 'N' word with abandon, or African-Americans directly and violently retailating against racism, "No Way Out" must have seemed like something from another planet to audiences in 1950. Nobody, not even bigots, expected to see a Hollywood film that presented racism, almost matter-of-factly, as a form of mental disease or a moral failing comparable to the worst kind of degeneracy. I'm guessing this is why it didn't have anything like the impact it might have (it should have made Sidney Poitier, in his screen debut, an instant star); people who went to see it probably couldn't believe their eyes. Even . . . in some ways especially . . . today, such a film from Hollywood would still be hard to imagine. But it wouldn't be any less welcome