Panic in the Streets (1950)

Panic in the Streetspanic in the streets poster
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Richard Murphy and Daniel Fuchs; story by Edna and Edward Anhalt
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant Video

Nancy Reed: If there’s a plague here, you’re the most important guy in this town.

Elia Kazan does some beautiful work on location in New Orleans in his lead up to On the Waterfront.

As the story begins, Blackie (Jack Palance) and Raymond Fitch (Zero Mostel) are playing cards with a stowaway who was introduced to the others by his cousin Poldi.  The stowaway is winning.  He feels sick and decides he has had enough.  Blackie does not care to lose though and sends Fitch and Poldi off to drag him back.  He resists and Blackie shoots and kills him.  An autopsy reveals that the man would have died of pneumonic plague in about 12 hours anyway.

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Public Health Officer Clint Reed (Richard Widmark) is called in.  He orders the body cremated and all the man’s possessions to be destroyed.  The stowaway was carrying no identification. He tells the city authorities and police that all the people that had any contact with the man must be located and treated within 48  hours and that the press must not be notified.  The rest of the story is devoted to a breakneck chase to track down the killers with almost nothing to go on.  With Paul Douglas as the lead.cop and Barbara Bel Geddes as Reed’s wife.

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This was Jack Palance’s (then Walter Jack Palance) screen debut and he makes a fine and scary villain.  Zero Mostel is also wonderful as a cowering , seedy hood.  The direction is amazing.  I don’t know how Kazan got some of the shots, such as the one tracking through a very crowded and narrow working man’s bar.  You can feel the heat, humidity, and decay of New Orleans throughout.  It’s very nice to see Widmark as a hero for a change.  The tension never lets up in this noir classic.  Recommended.

Panic in the Streets won an Academy Award for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story.

John Landis on “Panic in the Streets” – Trailers from Hell

Trailer sans commentary – cinematography by Joseph MacDonald


2 thoughts on “Panic in the Streets (1950)

  1. I’ve only seen a few Richard Widmark films but I’m impressed at how good he is at playing angry, indignant, and frustrated. He reminds me of Richard Gere in that regard.

    I agree: ” Zero Mostel is also wonderful as a cowering , seedy hood. ” I love the line where he says, “We’re his best friends.” Earlier, he abruptly dropped Poldi on the bed like a sack of potatoes.

    I wrote a short essay (500 words) on Panic in the Streets called “Illegal Immigration and the Risk to Public Health.” If you would like to read it, I am open to any feedback:

    • You should also try Widmark in his earlier bad guy roles. He makes a fantastic psycho killer in “Kiss of Death”, for which he earned an Oscar nomination. Also catch him as an anti-hero in Pickup on South Street.

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