Panic In The Streets (1950)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 1950. . Story by , adaptation by , Screenplay by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Elia Kazan later referred to this as the only film in his oeuvre that he considered perfect, a thrilling detective noir with an added element of social concern. A man is found murdered on a New Orleans dock and turns out to have been carrying a deadly pneumonic plague, which means that while detective needs to find his killer (played by a very young ), public health official needs to join the search in order to help stop what could become a dangerous epidemic. Struggling workers not well served by the city’s greater powers are not thrilled to see a man approaching with an inoculation needle, nor are the two mens’ attempts to infiltrate the city’s criminal underworld in order to help prevent thousands, if not more, deaths met with cooperation from many of the people they meet.

Then there’s the interference of the press, who want to sell a big headline but must be kept quiet to avoid the terror of the title as well as the possibility that the culprit might use it as an opportunity to skip town: all this stress, plus Widmark is struggling to keep house and home together with wife on his meager salary. Gritty cinematography, a tight script, and great performances glow beautifully thanks to Kazan’s knack for bringing out the most interesting aspects of his actors; Bel Geddes, for instance, could just be playing a typical Honey Come To Bed role but finds nuances in her dialogue that make the couple’s home life as significant as what Widmark is facing on the job. A film whose relevance seems not to have worn off so many decades after its release, which might speak to its perfection more than anything else about it.

Academy Award: Best Motion Picture story

Venice Film Festival: In Competition

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