A Movie A Day: PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950)
Now look, Neff, it isn’t smallpox and it isn’t cholera. It’s plague.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we follow director Elia Kazan from yesterday’s AMAD Gentleman’s Agreement and what a radical jump. Both films are incredible, but so drastically different…
I must admit this film threw me for a loop. I didn’t know a thing about it before I watched it other than the cast I could read on the cover and that it was an Elia Kazan film in the Fox Noir series.
I was shocked to see Jack Palance show up (under the name Walter Jack Palance) and boy was a fugly guy. He definitely grew into his body, but damn his statuesque face wasn’t made to be young. He’s a bad dude, a feared thug, who is playing poker with a bunch of guys in the beginning of the film, including a nervous, sweaty cousin of one of his gang who just snuck into America, stowing away on a boat.
Zero Mostel (THE PRODUCERS) is also in on the game, a toadie for Palance with the most horrible comb-over to grace the screen until Bill Murray showed up in KINGPIN.
The sweaty dude claims to be sick and wants to leave. Palance doesn’t want him to go… he’s up nearly $200 and it’s not polite to leave the game early when you’re up. He doesn’t buy the dude’s story that he’s sick. Not one bit.
The poor bastard runs and is chased down by the gang. When he’s cornered, he pulls a knife and Palance shoots him dead.
Yeah, it’s a noir, alright, I was thinking.
Turns out the dude wasn’t lying. He was sick. If he hadn’t been plugged he would have died within hours anyway, of the pneumonic plague, the uglier brother to the bubonic plague, which is much more contagious.
The movie then turns into a manhunt as a government health expert (Richard Widmark) and a police captain (Paul Douglas) have no more than 2 days before the murderers of this man become contagious themselves and start an outbreak.
What an awesome idea for a movie and a great, inventive twist on the typical crime story.
Watching the film I drew a lot of parallels between Kazan and Spielberg, especially early Spielberg. One of the things that makes JAWS my favorite film is how much business is in every moment of the film. There’s a reality to people talking over each other, constant interruptions, extremely real bit players (in JAWS’ case it was populated with Martha’s Vineyard locals) that was a huge part to Spielberg’s magic.
PANIC IN THE STREETS is very similar with that, very natural performances and natural conversations, but it’s also got a very similar structure to JAWS as well. Richard Widmark is kind of a Brody/Hooper hybrid. He’s a nice guy, a family man, who has to work hard at convincing the higher ups (mayor, police chief, etc) that there’s a pending epidemic. So, he’s got that Brody drive and he’s also an expert in his field and that’s the Hooper part.
Paul Douglas is kind of a mix between Mayor Vaughn and Quint. He’s kind of a tough badass cop, but he doubts Widmark more than anyone and resents this Government man giving him orders.
I guess that means Jack Palance is the shark, the main carrier of the plague, unknowingly hours away from killing tens of thousands of people.
But if you watch the movie, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Especially during the Richard Widmark family scenes, his bonding with his kid and his natural conversations with his worried wife (Barbara Bel Geddes) feel very much like the suburbia that Spielberg captured.
So, the main thrust of the movie is the race against time as Widmark and Douglas hunt down the murderers and that’s a great story, but it’s the details that really pushed this movie over for me. Little character moments, like Widmark’s kid begging for a quarter to see a movie, the difficulty our heroes have in getting any information because of people afraid they’re going to get in trouble and the most amazing moment… I won’t ruin it for you, but watch what Jack Palance does when he’s caught transporting his sick friend made me applaud while laughing hysterically and rocking back and forth on my couch. It’s an amazing moment.
This film won the Oscar for best writing and it’s another one that deserves it. Writers Richard Murphy (BOOMERANG) and Daniel Fuchs (CRISS CROSS) really knocked this one out of the park and had a perfect storm of creative partners with Elia Kazan’s naturalistic direction and sense of casting, Alfred Newman’s score and Joseph MacDonald’s (MY DARLING CLEMENTINE) gorgeous black and white cinematography.
And it was a tough year to be competing for Oscars. HARVEY, ALL ABOUT EVE, SUNSET BLVD, FATHER OF THE BRIDE, ASPHALT JUNGLE, MYSTERY STREET and THE THIRD MAN were all competing that year.
Final Thoughts: A top shelf movie that really knocked me back a bit. It’s been a great run these last few movies and I expect it to keep up a while. PANIC IN THE STREETS is an amazingly unique movie, especially for its time, and a precursor to the type of filmmaking that would launch Steven Spielberg’s star some 25 years later. Everybody is in top form here, especially the uber-creepy young Jack Palance… who has a random midget paperboy tipster friend in the movie… if that wasn’t enough, you also have a brilliant movie surrounding such awesomeness. Highly recommended.
Here’s what we have lined up for the next week:
Sunday, November 30th: THE HOT ROCK (1972)
Monday, December 1st: WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966)
Tuesday, December 2nd: THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973)
Wednesday, December 3rd: CARNAL KNOWLEDGE (1971)
Thursday, December 4th: THE CINCINNATI KID (1965)
Friday, December 5th: POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES (1961)
Saturday, December 6th: MIKEY & NICKY (1976)
Alright, as promised, I am diving directly into THE HOT ROCK and will post my thoughts on that before I sleep, thus catching me back up to current on my list. See you in a few hours for that one.
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler
November 16th: Once Upon A Time In America
November 17th: Salvador
November 18th: Best Seller
November 19th: The Holcroft Covenant
November 20th: Birdman of Alcatraz
November 21st: The Train
November 22nd: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
November 23rd: Mystery Street
November 24th: Border Incident
November 25th: The Tin Star
November 26th: On The Beach
November 27th: Twelve O’Clock High
November 28th: Gentleman’s Agreement
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Dec. 1, 2008, 3:55 a.m. CST
Just a shame Kazan turned out to be an untrustworthy weasel. Ah well.
Dec. 1, 2008, 4:27 a.m. CST
This movie is by far the best movie made in New Orleans...great time capsule to see the city way back then...of course not much has changed. Kazan shot in the city and used lots of locals not only as extras but in small speaking parts to get that authentic new orleans feel...wonder if this help inspire him to make "Streetcar" the next year. Great film...good choice Quint.
Dec. 1, 2008, 9:42 a.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
before they became famous. I need to check this out.
Dec. 1, 2008, 10:16 a.m. CST
I'll be adding this one to my queue. Have no idea when I'll watch them all, though.
Dec. 1, 2008, 11:48 a.m. CST
I mentioned it in a n earlier TB, but I will mention "The Killer That Stalked New York". It is the b-movie version of Panic in the Streets, staring Evelyn Keyes and makes a very good double feature with this.
Dec. 1, 2008, 6:13 p.m. CST
Well said Quint. You can see the influence of the style of this movie throughout 70's cinema. Everything feels REAL, everything moves (If that make sense) the camera work...very French Connection. And the waterfront is almost its own character.
Dec. 2, 2008, 3:16 p.m. CST
I agree entirely about "The Killer that Stalked New York"; those two together would make for a great night of cinema.
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