Film Review: Panic In the Streets (1950)

Also known as: Outbreak, Port of Entry (working titles), Quarantine (script title)
Release Date: July 1st, 1950 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Richard Murphy, Daniel Fuchs, Edna Anhalt, Edward Anhalt
Music by: Alfred Newman
Cast: Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jack Palance, Zero Mostel

Twentieth Century Fox, 96 Minutes

Review:

“You know, my mother always told me if you looked deep enough in anybody… you’d always find some good, but I don’t know.” – Lt. Cmdr. Clinton ‘Clint’ Reed M.D., “With apologies to your mother, that’s the second mistake she made.” – Capt. Tom Warren

While most urban film-noir pictures take place in big cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles or Chicago, it’s always cool to see one set in another city. In the case of this film, we’re taken to one of the most interesting and entertaining cities in the world: New Orleans.

I love New Orleans and it’s really neat seeing a film that was shot in that city’s streets circa 1950. It’s a very different place from what it would become but at the same time, it has such a rich history and really it’s own style that all of that comes through and gives you one of the most unique looking urban noir pictures ever made.

The film also gave us the debut of Jack Palance, who would go on to be one of the greatest character actors of all-time, as well as a multiple Academy Award nominee.

On top of that, we get such incredible performances from Richard Widmark and Paul Douglas that just on acting alone, this eclipses most of the other noir pictures of its day. Add in superb direction from a true maestro, Elia Kazan, and you’ve got a true classic.

While it’s not a masterpiece, it was a gritty, energetic and engaging motion picture from the first frame to the last.

The City of New Orleans really becomes a character in the film and apart from Kazan’s visual style, I think a lot of the credit also has to go to cinematographer Joseph MacDonald, who has a pretty impressive filmography, himself.

The story is about stopping a potential outbreak, as a small crew of criminals murders a man and it’s discovered that the victim had pneumonic plague. This forces a police captain and a military doctor to have to begrudgingly work together in an effort to solve the mystery of the man’s execution, find his killers and stop a pandemic from happening in New Orleans.

This is a movie that packs a real narrative punch that is punctuated by an incredible finale in a banana factory. In fact, there’s so much squeezed into this energetic and very layered film that I’m surprised they were able to get it all in the movie at just 96 minutes.

It is well-paced and even if it moves by fairly rapidly, Kazan did a masterful job in executing his vision on the screen and with real energy.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other noir pictures of the era, as well as Elia Kazan’s other films.

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