Tag Archives: Sidney Poitier

No Way Out (1950) 3.14/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 76.5
Genre: Film-Noir
Duration: 106 mins
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Stars: Sidney Poitier, Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell

“Ain’t that asking a lot? Trying to be better than them when we get killed for trying to prove we’re as good.” Sidney Poitier made one of the more impressive screen debuts in this taut racial thriller about a young black doctor who is targeted by the psychotically racist and criminal brother of a patient who dies under his care. There’s much to admire here beyond the highly engaging story of the lonely fight against racism in 1950’s America. Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ script gets to the heart of prejudice through the inclusion of various characters whose differing backgrounds, education, and/or intelligence shine a light on the factors that affect tolerance. It even manages to parallel racial and class prejudice with one another in a sophisticated nod to their mutual dependencies. There are a couple of artificial interchanges among the secondary characters in an effort to paint the wider social attitudes towards blacks and lower class whites. However, the premium lines are reserved for the leads and they eat them up. Richard Widmark bristles with hate as he puts in yet another seminal bad guy turn as the nasty racist and he was so effective that he apparently apologised profusely to his future life long friend Poitier after every scene. Linda Darnell captures the nuances of her character’s more complex circumstances while Stephen McNally scores well as the colour blind head doctor. Poitier, for his part, exhibits all the interesting energy that was to define his best roles and adds much humanity to the film while retaining the anger of the oppressed righteous. Mankiewicz shoots the film with a cultured touch and ensures the tension of the dramatic scenes spills out into some extraordinary set pieces, the pinnacle of which, is a stunningly lit and framed race riot. Without reaching the level of a piercing social analysis, No Way Out is an impressive attempt to build a thriller out of an honest examination into the phenomenon. It works a treat and counts as one of the more all round solid movies of the 1950’s.

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Deadly Pursuit/Shoot to Kill (1988) 4.19/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 66.8
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 110 mins
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Stars: Sidney Poitier, Tom Berenger, Kirstie Alley

The 80’s thriller was a unique animal. All soft focus, dialogue skirting the edges of cheesiness, disciplined competent action, great leading men, and pure entertainment. Deadly Pursuit (or Shoot to Kill as it was called Stateside) is case in point. Sidney Poitier stars as an FBI agent who tracks a ruthless killer to the mountains of the Canadian border where he enlists the reluctant help of mountain guide Tom Berenger whose girlfriend (Kirsty Alley) has been kidnapped by the killer. Poitier is comfortable as the cultured city man out of his element and he and Berenger play off each other to great effect. The action is exactly what you’d expect with lashings of humour thrown in but it’s that great 80’s vibe that makes the whole things so damn satisfying. Clancy Brown and Andrew Robinson are among the excellent support cast and Brown in particular puts in yet another fine display.

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The Bedford Incident (1965) 3.43/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 75.9
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 102 mins
Director: James B. Harris
Stars: Richard Widmark, Sidney Poitier, Martin Balsam

Cold war drama starring Sidney Poitier as a journalist commissioned to do a story on the US Bedford, a destroyer which under the stern leadership of its task master captain has made a name for itself as a crack soviet sub-hunter. The film begins with Poitier being helicoptered on board in the middle of a dangerous pursuit along with the ship’s new doctor played by Martin Balsam. They soon learn that the only law on this ship is the captain’s and that his fanaticism has bred an elite but tightly wound crew. As Poitier gets to know his man and as Balsam attempts to fit in with the ship’s ultra-modern methods, the Bedford gets embroiled in a dangerous game with its latest quarry, a soviet sub which has illegally entered Greenland’s waters.

Poitier and Balsam are their usual tremendous selves but The Bedford Incident is all about Richard Widmark’s emphatic turn as the insatiable but paranoid Captain Finlander. Through James Poe’s taut screenplay and Widmark’s presence, his character sets the tone so completely that nearly every scene, even when he’s not present, is coloured by him. Echoes of Herman Melville’s Ahab ring louder and louder as Finlander provokes and threatens the soviet sub up and down the coast of Greenland to the increasing dismay and fear of the ship’s recent arrivals and eventually the crew itself.

The Bedford Incident is a cracking high tension representative of an always intriguing genre. The action is much more contained than the traditional WWII naval drama. This is partly due to the fact that the production had less help from the US military in terms of equipment and vehicle provision but mostly because the terseness of the story called for it. This is a film about obsession and the futile attempts of those observing to make sense of it or even stop it. It doesn’t crawl inside the head of the compelled captain but like Moby Dick, it examines it from the point of view of the incredulous onlookers. In this manner, The Bedford Incident becomes a streamlined reflection of the wider anxieties of the times as the governments of two superpowers went head to head in a dangerously deadlocked cold combat to the exasperation of the watching world.

The hermetic tension created to serve these ends works perfectly on a cinematic level too as it hones the already chilling subject matter to a fine point. It’s not the most technically accomplished war film as most of the action is shot in a studio but it makes clever use of what it does offer. However, even if it didn’t, the quality of the drama and the pay-off of its remarkable ending would easily negate such concerns.

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