In honor of my sudden illness this past weekend, this week is The Doctor is Out week. Panic in the Streets is currently available on instant Netflix.
WATCH: Panic in the Streets (1950) – NR – Not rated.
“A medical official races against time to stop a deadly epidemic from spreading across the United States in this taut drama. Lt. Cmdr. Dr. Clinton Reed (Richard Widmark) frantically scours New Orleans to locate two murderers (Jack Palance and Zero Mostel) infected with a deadly plague. Reed must inoculate the criminals and anyone with whom they have come into contact, without causing widespread pandemonium. Barbara Bel Geddes also stars.”
“You know, my mother always told me if you looked deep enough in anybody… you would always find some good but I dont know.” – “With apologies to your mother, that is the second mistake she made.”
Elia Kazan does a wonderful job of directing here. The opening scene comes across as a classic film noir as do many of the scenes featuring Palance. The rest of the film is shot very matter of factly – almost documentary style.
Elia Kazan previously won an Oscar for Gentlemans Agreement and would go on to win for On the Waterfront. He was also nominated for A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden, and America, America.
His honorary Oscar in 1999 was full of controversy. During the McCarthy hearings, he informed on many of his fellow artists causing “irrevocable harm” and in some cases driving them out of the country or the business. Many of the attendees neither stood nor applauded when he was awarded.
Edna and Edward Anhalt won the Oscar for Best Writing for their work on Panic. They would go on to be nominated again in 1953 for The Sniper. Edward won a second Oscar for writing Becket. Part of the reason the writing is so good here is that it seems exceptionally forward-thinking for 1950.
Jack Palance makes his film debut here. He is wonderful as a psychotic killer although I expect that that facility and his angular, swarthy looks caused him to be typecast. I love how he spends most of the movie physically shoving people. Jack is billed here as Walter Jack Palance.
This is also the debut of Zero Mostel and there is not a trace of his humor to be found in this very serious performance.
A young Richard Widmark plays our (somewhat cranky) heroic investigator, Dr. Reed. Barbara Bel Geddes has fun as his long-suffering wife Nancy Reed. Paul Douglas is the disbelieving police captain.
I give this forerunner to Robin Cook/Michael Crichton a watch. It is flawed but the melding of film noir to medical thriller is very interesting.
People Watch: Director Elia Kazan has a cameo as a mortuary assistant.