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According to various news items and information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, Twentieth Century-Fox purchased the motion picture rights to Lester Samuels' original story in Jan 1949 and signed him to a ten-week contract to write the screenplay. Paramount, Universal, Warner Bros. and Columbia also had bid for the rights. Samuels, in a NYT article dated 30 Jul 1950, stated that he originally wanted to write about "the cancerous results of hatred," but did not intend to focus on an African-American doctor until he learned from colleagues of his daughter's fiancé, a doctor, about the problems faced by African-Americans doctors. According to correspondence in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, a number of Fox producers who examined the story before the purchase were enthusiastic about it and wanted to produce it, including Otto Preminger, Sol Siegel and Nunnally Johnson. Johnson called the story, "the most reasonable approach to the racial question in a dramatic form that I have seen. It argues for professional fairness and equality, not for social reasons but for purely practical purposes." According to a 29 Dec 1948 memo, Fox public relations counsel Jason Joy was concerned about "the violence which this story contains and the fear that might be raised in some quarters that it might touch off violence in their sections of the country." After the purchase of Samuels' story, writer Philip Yordan made a number of suggestions that were incorporated into the final film. He advised going "into Luther's home. We will see real Negroes and how they live, as human beings. He will have a real brother, a real ... More Less

According to various news items and information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, Twentieth Century-Fox purchased the motion picture rights to Lester Samuels' original story in Jan 1949 and signed him to a ten-week contract to write the screenplay. Paramount, Universal, Warner Bros. and Columbia also had bid for the rights. Samuels, in a NYT article dated 30 Jul 1950, stated that he originally wanted to write about "the cancerous results of hatred," but did not intend to focus on an African-American doctor until he learned from colleagues of his daughter's fiancé, a doctor, about the problems faced by African-Americans doctors. According to correspondence in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, a number of Fox producers who examined the story before the purchase were enthusiastic about it and wanted to produce it, including Otto Preminger, Sol Siegel and Nunnally Johnson. Johnson called the story, "the most reasonable approach to the racial question in a dramatic form that I have seen. It argues for professional fairness and equality, not for social reasons but for purely practical purposes." According to a 29 Dec 1948 memo, Fox public relations counsel Jason Joy was concerned about "the violence which this story contains and the fear that might be raised in some quarters that it might touch off violence in their sections of the country." After the purchase of Samuels' story, writer Philip Yordan made a number of suggestions that were incorporated into the final film. He advised going "into Luther's home. We will see real Negroes and how they live, as human beings. He will have a real brother, a real sister, a real father and mother--all human beings." In a later memo, studio production head Darryl F. Zanuck stated that the film was to "conscientiously avoid propaganda, but at the same time the final result of our efforts should be a picture which is actually powerful propaganda against intolerance." Zanuck, like Joy, worried about the violence in the story and warned, "even in certain so-called white cities, such as Detroit, Omaha, St. Louis and Philadelphia, we are apt to have the picture banned totally by the Police Commission. We already know that we will lose about 3,000 accounts in the South who will not play the picture under any circumstances. But it would be a terrible thing if we have something in the picture which would give the so-called white cities a chance to turn us down because then the picture will be a fatal financial disaster." Although, in Feb 1949, Zanuck liked the ending of the current script, in which "Luther" was killed, he changed his mind by Apr 1949 and wrote in a conference note that the ending left a "feeling of utter futility. Luther, a wonderful character, is hideously slaughtered. If his death resulted in something , if something were accomplished either characterwise or otherwise, it would be different and I would accept it." Joseph Mankiewicz prepared a preliminary script in Jun 1949, with a new story line and new characterizations, which Zanuck approved in Aug 1949.
       A 17 Oct 1949 LADN article asserted that the picture, which was about to start shooting, "will differ from its predecessors in that it will consider Negroes as everyday citizens in a big American city. Previous pictures have dealt with less representative phases of Negro life." In the article, Mankiewicz stated, "we are dealing with the absolute blood and guts, the bread and potatoes, so to speak, of Negro hating. Darryl F. Zanuck decided to produce this picture because, as he said, 'We want to tell a story of the Negro in a white man's everyday world, rather than the Negro in the Negro's world.' We are going to show the kind of hate the Negro runs up against in his daily life, how he is afraid to walk on certain streets." Studio press material noted that the studio delayed the film so that it would be released a year after Pinky (see below) in order to achieve "a gradual build-up to audience receptivity."
       No Way Out marked the feature film debut of Sidney Poitier, who, according to studio publicity, had earlier appeared in three Signal Corps short films. The picture also marked the screen debut of Ossie Davis (1917--2005), and was the first film in which Davis appeared with his wife, Ruby Dee. The couple appeared together in numerous films, plays and television programs before his death in 2005. Stephen McNally was borrowed from Universal for the production, for which technical director Valentine A. Becker, a California State Rehabilitation Officer for the Deaf, taught sign language to Linda Darnell, Richard Widmark and Harry Bellaver. "Alderman Mathew Tompkins," the character portrayed by Bill Walker, is referred to twice in the film, but was not seen in the print viewed.
       According to a 23 Aug 1950 DV news item, the National League of Decency condemned the film. In Chicago, on 22 Aug 1950, police captain Harry Fullmer held up a permit for exhibition of the film in the city and recommended banning the film to police commissioner John Prendergast because it "might cause more racial unrest than we have now," according to a 24 Aug 1950 HCN article. On the day of Fullmer's action, Walter White, Executive Secretary of the NAACP, sent a telegram to Chicago Mayor Martin D. Kennelly objecting to the ban, according to information in the NAACP Papers at the Library of Congress. White wrote, "This picture is the most forthright and courageous picturization of the evil of race prejudice which has yet been made.... No Way Out exposes the evil nature of [racial prejudice] and instead of inciting to riot as police censor claims [it] will do enormous good in the exactly opposite direction." After Commissioner Prendergast approved the ban, the Chicago Sun-Times published an editorial on 28 Aug 1950 sharply criticizing the censors. Mankiewicz, who called the ban "absurd," was quoted by Life as saying, "I find it highly commendable for the city fathers to be keeping Chicago, with its high cultural standards, isolated from any violence." The mayor convened a special committee of the Cook County Crime Prevention Bureau, and after a screening on 30 Aug, they recommended to the mayor that the ban be rescinded, according to news items. Mayor Kennelly lifted the ban after three to four minutes of the film were cut, including scenes of blacks and whites preparing for the riot.
       In Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the film was shown in a cut version, and the film was prohibited from being shown on Sundays in Massachusetts. At the time of the Chicago ban, an official of Fox's sales department stated that no attempt had been made to release the film in the South. After the Maryland State Board of Motion Picture Censors deleted scenes of blacks preparing to defend themselves before the riot and a subsequent scene showing the victory of the blacks, the NAACP branches in Baltimore and Maryland complained that the film's "original message is hopelessly lost." Walter White and officers of the local branches wrote to the board urging that the film be restored to its uncut state, or, barring that, for the board to delete scenes of racial epithets, but the board refused to change its decision. In explaining the refusal to White, board chairman Sidney Traub noted that the board and local police departments found the actions of the blacks during the riot scenes to be "highly provocative and crime inciting."
       According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, at a meeting in mid-Oct 1950, the board of directors of the Negro Newspaper Publishers Association adopted a resolution to protest "the use of epithets in all motion pictures and particularly the excessive employment of these epithets in the motion picture, No Way Out .... Its authors err in their belief that in order to make the villain thoroughly contemptible, he and others, on thirty-five different occasions utter indecent epithets applied to the colored race. Some of these terms of opprobrium have never been heard or used by millions of Americans of both races. Their employment in the motion picture screens throughout the country builds up a vocabulary of undesirable expressions which should not be spoken in decent society." The resolution was sent to the PCA, which responded, "The company which produced it has stated, quite frankly, that they deliberately sought to be as forceful and dramatic as possible for the sake of the Negro, having no thought to hurt him, but, rather, to help him."
       Reviews were mixed concerning the film. MPH commented, "The screen has tackled the problem of race prejudice in various ways ever since Hollywood acquired a social conscience, but rarely has it come to grips with the whole tragic question quite so dramatically and forcefully as in this picture." The reviewer stated that the film "makes its point without flinching and with little regard for the feelings of the white audience." DV , however called it "tedious with words" and Fortnight was critical of the film's "lack of genuine feeling and insight into the motives of the very people it pretends to champion." SatRev reviewer Hollis Alpert's comment that "at some points this movie made me uncomfortable," provoked an angry letter from Walter White, who questioned, "I wonder what would have happened to [Alpert's] stomach had he been with me when I investigated a lynching in Georgia some years ago of an eight-months-pregnant Negro mother who had committed the crime of crying out in her grief that her recently lynched husband was innocent? Or if he had been with me in Detroit as policemen directed Negroes into the hands of mobs who slew their victims with incredible bestiality?" Alpert responded that he and White stood for the same things, but that Hollywood is "ducking its responsibility when it insists upon casting its problem films in sheerly melodramatic terms."
       The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing (Story and Screenplay: Mankiewicz and Samuels). New York foreign language press film critics gave Zanuck a special award for "great timeliness and unusual entertainment value which makes a major contribution to the advancement of improved race relations in the United States." More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
5 Aug 1950.
---
Daily Variety
13 Apr 1949.
---
Daily Variety
2 Aug 50
p. 3.
Daily Variety
23 Aug 1950.
---
Film Daily
2 Aug 50
p. 6.
Fortnight
13 Oct 1950.
---
Hollywood Citizen-News
24 Aug 1950.
---
Hollywood Citizen-News
14 Oct 1950.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jan 1949.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Oct 49
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Aug 50
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Aug 50
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Aug 1950.
---
Independent Film Journal
12 Aug 1950.
---
Life
4 Sep 1950.
---
Life
25 Sep 1950.
---
Look
12 Sep 1950.
---
Los Angeles Daily News
17 Oct 1949.
---
Los Angeles Times
5 Jan 1949.
---
Los Angeles Times
13 Oct 1949.
---
Los Angeles Times
6 Aug 50
p. 1, 3
Los Angeles Times
14 Oct 1950.
---
Motion Picture Daily
2 Aug 1950.
---
Motion Picture Herald
2 Sep 1950.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
5 Aug 50
p. 413.
New York Times
1 Jan 1949.
---
New York Times
9 Jan 1949.
---
New York Times
6 Nov 1949.
---
New York Times
30 Jul 1950.
---
New York Times
6 Aug 1950.
---
New York Times
17 Aug 50
p. 23.
New York Times
24 Sep 1950.
---
New Yorker
26 Aug 1950.
---
Saturday Review
2 Sep 50
pp. 28-29.
Saturday Review
14 Oct 1950.
---
The Afro-American (Baltimore)
14 Oct 1950.
---
Time
21 Aug 1950.
---
Variety
2 Aug 50
p. 16.
Variety
23 Aug 1950.
---
Variety
30 Aug 1950.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Victor Kilian Sr.
Robert Davis
Eda Reiss Merin
Katharine Marlowe
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Casting dir
Assoc casting dir
DETAILS
Release Date:
October 1950
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 17 August 1950
Production Date:
28 October--20 December 1949
addl scenes started 14 February 1950
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
16 August 1950
Copyright Number:
LP518
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
106
Length(in feet):
9,590
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
PCA No:
14257
SYNOPSIS

Dr. Luther Brooks, an intern who has just passed the state board examination to qualify for his license to practice, is the first African-American doctor at the urban county hospital at which he trained. Because he lacks self-confidence, Luther requests to work as a junior resident at the hospital for another year. Johnny and Ray Biddle, brothers who were both shot in the leg by a policeman as they attempted a robbery, are brought to the hospital's prison ward. As Luther tends to the disoriented Johnny, he is bombarded with racist slurs by Ray, who grew up in Beaver Canal, the white working class section of the city. Believing that Johnny has a brain tumor, Luther administers a spinal tap, but Johnny dies during the procedure. Wondering if Ray's antagonism may have caused him to be careless, Luther consults his mentor, chief medical resident Dr. Daniel Wharton, and Wharton concedes that a brain tumor was only one possibility. Feeling that he must prove the accuracy of his diagnosis, Luther requests an autopsy, but Wharton informs him that according to state law, they cannot proceed without the permission of the deceased's family. When Ray refuses, as he does not want his brother's body to be cut up, Wharton confers with the head of the hospital, Dr. Sam Moreland, about requisitioning an autopsy. Moreland, aware that a scandal over the black doctor's actions could endanger funding, denies the request in the hope that the incident will be forgotten. Upon learning from police records that Johnny was married, Wharton and Luther visit his widow, Edie Johnson, who tells the doctors that she divorced Johnny a ... +


Dr. Luther Brooks, an intern who has just passed the state board examination to qualify for his license to practice, is the first African-American doctor at the urban county hospital at which he trained. Because he lacks self-confidence, Luther requests to work as a junior resident at the hospital for another year. Johnny and Ray Biddle, brothers who were both shot in the leg by a policeman as they attempted a robbery, are brought to the hospital's prison ward. As Luther tends to the disoriented Johnny, he is bombarded with racist slurs by Ray, who grew up in Beaver Canal, the white working class section of the city. Believing that Johnny has a brain tumor, Luther administers a spinal tap, but Johnny dies during the procedure. Wondering if Ray's antagonism may have caused him to be careless, Luther consults his mentor, chief medical resident Dr. Daniel Wharton, and Wharton concedes that a brain tumor was only one possibility. Feeling that he must prove the accuracy of his diagnosis, Luther requests an autopsy, but Wharton informs him that according to state law, they cannot proceed without the permission of the deceased's family. When Ray refuses, as he does not want his brother's body to be cut up, Wharton confers with the head of the hospital, Dr. Sam Moreland, about requisitioning an autopsy. Moreland, aware that a scandal over the black doctor's actions could endanger funding, denies the request in the hope that the incident will be forgotten. Upon learning from police records that Johnny was married, Wharton and Luther visit his widow, Edie Johnson, who tells the doctors that she divorced Johnny a year and a half ago, and that she hates his whole family. Although she does not reveal it to Wharton, his sympathetic attitude persuades her to visit Ray to ask about the autopsy. Ray tells her, however, that Johnny would be alive if he had had a white doctor, and that Wharton wants to have the autopsy to cover up the truth about Luther's actions. Edie's racist feelings are revived by Ray, with whom she had committed adultery, and he convinces her that Wharton played her for a "chump," and that she can make up for her past infidelity to Johnny by contacting Beaver Canal club owner Rocky Miller and telling him about Johnny's death. Accompanied by Ray's other brother George, who is a deaf-mute, Edie goes to the club, where Rocky and his pals lay plans to attack the black section of town, which they call "Niggertown." Although Edie desperately wishes to leave, Rocky forces her to stay. Meanwhile, Luther arrives at the hospital and learns about the upcoming attack from Lefty Jones, a black elevator operator. Luther tries to dissuade Lefty from organizing a counterattack, but Lefty reminds him of a race riot that occured while Luther was away at school, during which Lefty and his sister were beaten. Luther then contacts Alderman Tompkins to try to avert the riot, while Lefty and a large group of blacks, including Luther's brother-in-law John, meet and plan their strategy. Edie watches in disgust as the whites prepare their weapons, but leaves before the blacks surprise the whites by attacking first. As victims of the riots are brought in to the hospital, Wharton is called in from home. Before he departs, however, a drunken and disheartened Edie arrives at his house, and Wharton leaves her in the care of his black maid, Gladys. Although Edie fears that Gladys will harm her because of her connection to the riot, Gladys tenderly cares for her when she collapses. At the hospital, Luther tends to the victims until a white woman orders him to take his "black hands" off her son. Stunned, Luther walks out, and the next morning, after Wharton returns home to find Edie chatting with Gladys, Luther's wife Cora arrives and announces that Luther has given himself up to the police for the murder of Johnny Biddle. Cora relates that after he left the hospital, Luther realized that the coronor would be forced to conduct an autopsy if he were charged with murder. Wharton assures Cora that he will stand by Luther, and after he leaves with Edie, Cora's stoic demeanor in front of the whites crumbles and she cries in Gladys' arms. Following the autopsy, the coroner confirms that Johnny died of a brain tumor and that Luther was justified in performing the spinal tap. Wharton, Cora and Edie are pleased that Luther has been exonerated, but Ray insists that the doctors are conspiring to bury the truth. Luther leaves with Cora, following by Edie, who denounces Ray before she departs. After overhearing Wharton tell the coroner that he is leaving town for a much-needed rest, Ray and George overpower the police guard and escape. When Edie returns to her apartment, she finds Ray and George waiting, and Ray, whose leg is bleeding profusely, beats Edie to make her call Luther and tell him to meet Wharton at his house. Drunk and in shock, Ray raves that he is going to kill Luther, then leaves Edie with George. By turning up the volume on her radio, which George does not notice, Edie cause her neighbors to break down her door, then escapes and calls the hospital prison ward for help. Meanwhile, when Luther enters Wharton's house, Ray holds a gun on him, beats hi and shouts racist slurs. Edie arrives and tries to stop Ray from killing Luther, but Ray's physical pain and obsessive hatred have pushed him beyond reason. Edie turns out the lights as Ray shoots at Luther, and although Luther is wounded in the shoulder, he retrieves Ray's gun as he collapses in pain. Edie coldly tells Luther to let Ray's leg bleed, but Luther asserts that he cannot kill Ray simply because of his racism, then uses the gun and Edie's scarf to fashion a tourniquet. As a siren announces the arrival of the police, Luther tells the hysterical Ray, "Don't cry, white boy, you're gonna live." +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.