Panic in the Streets
At the beginning of the decade that would see him become one of the most important directors in Hollywood A Streetcar Named Desire, Viva Zapata!, On the Waterfront, East of Eden Elia Kazan made Panic in the Streets (1950), a gripping and edgy noir-ish detective story. Richard Widmark stars as a public-health officer who diagnoses an unidentified homicide victim as infected with a contagious strain of plague that would have killed him in days had his murderer not intervened. With time running out before a devastating outbreak infects New Orleans and beyond, Widmark and a reluctant police captain (Paul Douglas) resourcefully track the anonymous victim's seedy underworld life, inoculating all who came into contact with the host while trying to keep the story from striking panic in the public at large. Panic in the Streets is well-paced and superbly acted, but what really stands out are the uncommon touches by Kazan and screenwriters Daniel Fuchs and Richard Murphy that break the facade of movie artificiality common to titles of this period. Chief among the movie's pleasures is Barbara Bel Geddes' bold and intimate performance as Widmark's supportive-but-stubborn wife. She is neither relegated to a mere ornament nor elevated into a contrived tool of emotional manipulation. It's as unsensational and effective a depiction of marital tension and tenderness as most movies from any era can muster, and not exactly the type of movie where one expects to find it. Kazan also skillfully directs the tension of contagion amongst unwitting disease-carriers, where every moment of incidental contact between people, and people and objects (like food), heightens the sense of danger, making the final confrontation amongst the inventory of a port warehouse quite memorable. Widmark is solid and sympathetic as an underappreciated man of duty, and Douglas provides him with a worthy foil-turned partner. Jack Palance makes a striking early appearance as the venal, cat-like hood Black, while Zero Mostel hams it up as one of his stooges. Fox presents Panic in the Streets in a nice-looking full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) from a pleasant black-and-white source print with both the original monaural soundtrack and a new stereo remix. Film writers Alain Silver and James Ursini chat on a commentary track, during which they discuss the film itself and both Kazan's and film noir's particular relationship to politics and the Hollywood blacklist. This disc also includes a trailer and trailers for other titles from the Fox library. Keep-case.