16 June 2018

EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT PRESENTS: THE DEFIANT ONES and NO WAY OUT: 2 RACIAL DRAMAS STARRING SIDNEY POITIER AND REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS.




THE DEFIANT ONES and NO WAY OUT: TWO ELECTRIFYING DRAMAS ABOUT RACIAL TENSIONS STARRING SIDNEY POITIER AND REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE DEFIANT ONES. (1958) DIRECTED BY STANLEY KRAMER. STARRING SIDNEY POITIER, TONY CURTIS, CARA WILLIAMS AND LON CHANEY JR.

NO WAY OUT. (1950) DIRECTED BY JOSEPH L. MANKIEWICZ. STARRING SIDNEY POITIER, RICHARD WIDMARK, LINDA DARNELL, MILDRED JOANNE SMITH AND STEPHEN MCNALLY.

Oh wow. These two black-and-white American films are just fantastic, if uncomfortable, to watch. If you tend to think of racism as a kind of broad abstraction that happens in the world but you don't know too much about the actual details, well, here are the details. Here's the nitty-gritty, as it were.

Here are two specific situations happening to two specific sets of people that involve racial discrimination, racial hatred and racial tensions verging on actual race rioting. They're shocking, unsettling, occasionally funny and immensely thought-provoking. I'm thrilled to bits that I got the chance to watch them both.

As a white Irish woman living in modern-day Ireland, I would be almost totally ignorant of the struggle of black people living in early-to-mid twentieth century America, a place where toilets for 'whites' and toilets for 'coloureds' still existed and a black woman has to give up her seat on a bus for a white passenger. I'm glad I had the chance here to address some of my ignorance and put myself in another person's shoes for a change.

In THE DEFIANT ONES, Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis play two convicts. They escape together from the van conveying them to their Southern prison when the van is involved in an accident on the way back from a day on the good old chain gang.

They have no choice about escaping together because they're actually chained together at the wrist, lol, so it's definitely gonna be a case of you jump, I jump. Everything they do from now on, they're gonna be doing together...

Their frantic escape from the bloodthirsty posse pursuing them is fraught with difficulties. Almost nothing but difficulties, in fact. They're tired from running, hot and bothered and frightened, starving with the hunger, then cold and soaking wet when it rains and they've no shelter from the cruel elements.

There's a really hairy bit where they're hiding from the posse and the police dogs at the bottom of a waterlogged, mud-soaked pit in a quarry which they nearly don't escape from. They don't really know where they're going, either.

All they know is that they're getting as far away from the Deep South as they can, as Noah Cullen (Sidney Poitier) is black and long used to a shitty lifetime of being racially discriminated against. He fears, not unnaturally, that he'll stand out like a sore thumb in any Southern town or village they wind up in.

John 'Joker' Jackson (Tony Curtis) is white, or white trash, if y'all want to be specific about it. He comes across as a racist but I don't think he particularly is really. He's just used to things being a certain way and what are you supposed to do about it? You can't change the world or what people think about each other, can you, so why bother? You kind of can't blame him. He has enough trouble just trying to survive in the world.

Joker riles Noah constantly, in a low-key kinda way, about the way things are in the world for black men as opposed to white men. Noah tries not to rise to the bait but it's hard not to. Deep down though, very deep down at first, the two men develop a grudging respect and even a tentative liking for each other.

They're chained together, after all, and therefore they've got to watch out for each other to an extent but it goes deeper than that. As the barking of the dogs and the shouts of the posse grow ever nearer, we're rooting for the pair of them equally, knowing for certain that they're pals now and, where one goes, the other will now surely follow.

There are two excellent set-pieces in the movie involving a brilliant cameo from Lon Chaney Jr. (not a fang or a hairy paw in sight, lol) as Big Sam, a former prisoner who tries to save our two heroes from an angry lynch-mob, and Cara Williams as Billy's Mother, a woman they encounter along the way who sees Joker as her ticket out of her miserable life.

A deserted wife stuck scrubbing a living for herself and her young son out of her absconded a**hole of a husband's farm, she's desperate to escape from the mundanity and monotony of her fate. And who could blame her?

We know that they (Joker and Billy's Mother) have sex and, although we don't get to see it (Aw, I wanna see it!), we know that's it's steamy and deep and born out of the natural need of two frustrated people to seek satisfaction where they can. Ain't nuthin' wrong with that whatsoever. It's what people were born for.

For a while there, it looks like Joker might be willing to take this woman with him on his travels. But then she makes the mistake of showing casual racism against Noah, and Noah's Joker's buddy-for-life now. No woman is gonna come between them. And, in fairness, she should realise that she's never going to get what she needs from a guy called Joker, it doesn't really bode very well, does it?

NO WAY OUT is a genuinely shocking film. The racist language in it is horrible, words I hadn't even heard myself before watching it. And yet this type of talk was the norm back then. The 'n' word is batted around so often it actually becomes the norm.

The people in the film aren't particularly sensitive towards the disabled either. There's a deaf-and-dumb character in it who's referred to callously as 'the dummy' and it really rankles.

Sidney Poitier plays Luther Brooks, a newly-qualified doctor (a huge achievement for a 'coloured' person) who is assigned to treat two robbers who end up in the prison ward of the hospital where he works.

One of them sadly dies while he's treating him, and the dead man's extremely racist brother, Ray Biddle (a ridiculously young and handsome-looking Richard Widmark with his killer grin!), accuses Luther of deliberately murdering him just because he's white.

He ascribes the feelings of super-nasty racial hatred he possesses himself to Luther. Ray hates all blacks, so why shouldn't Luther hate the whites in turn? But Luther doesn't hate whites, even though he's been discriminated against by them his whole life.

Luther genuinely wants to be a good doctor. It's all he wants. His supervisor and mentor Dr. Wharton (Stephen McNally), a white doctor, has the utmost faith in Luther and stands up for him throughout the film. Luther demands an autopsy of the dead man, Johnny Biddle, so that it can be publicly proven that he did the right thing while treating the patient.

The hate-filled Ray Biddle, who comes from the 'poor white trash' end of town, refuses as the next-of-kin to allow the autopsy to take place. Those doctors are not cutting up Johnny just so as they can cover up their own mistake or, even worse, the deliberate murder of his brother.

Furthermore, Ray puts the word out amongst his thuggish cohorts about what Luther, a black man, has 'done' to his, Ray's, white brother. The thugs plan a ferocious assault on the part of town they call 'n****-town' but they're not aware that the black community are aware of the proposed attack and they're looking to get their retaliation in first. The stage is set for a race riot of horrific proportions...

Linda Darnell plays the beautiful Edie Johnson, Johnny Biddle's estranged widow who's finally managed to scrape enough cents together to leave Beaver Canal, the rough side of town where she grew up with a violent father, married petty crook Johnny Biddle and had an affair, inevitably, with his more attractive brother, petty crook Ray.

Luther, who has the support of a devoted wife who sees the importance of what he's doing, and Dr. Wharton appeal to Edie to talk to Ray about letting the autopsy go ahead. Edie, who's grown up accustomed to seeing black people as lesser beings, is easily persuaded by Ray at first to put the blame for everything on Luther, the 'n*****' doctor.

When she sees how civilised, decent people like Dr. Wharton treat black people, however, it might just convince her that Ray's racial hatred is a sickness that'll keep him on the wrong side of the tracks for the rest of his life. Edie wants to shake the dust of Beaver Canal off her feet forever, and maybe that means having to ditch some of their awful attitudes and hatreds too...?

Both these films are just so good. You'll remember them long after you watch them, and make sure you do watch them if you can. To make it real easy-like for all the nice lazy people who don't feel like looking things up for themselves, lol, here are the details, all nice and handy-like. 
Don't say I never do anything nice for ye...!

EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT to release THE DEFIANT ONES in a Dual Format Edition on June 11th, 2018.

EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT to release NO WAY OUT for the first time ever on Blu-Ray (and in its debut on UK home video) as part of THE MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES in a definitive Dual Format Edition on June 11th, 2018.

These films are available to buy separately only, but if you purchase 'em both they'll make a cracking double bill for a lazy summer's afternoon...!


AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

http://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com








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