Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Panic in the Streets (1950) - Noir For the Public Good

First, a quick note of housekeeping: I'm hoping to get quite a few reviews up this week, sort of a deck clearing  effort, before starting in with next week's Public Domain 101 where we'll take a bit of a step back and take more of a look at what exactly the Public Domain is, what it isn't, and why you should care.

Generally, the term film noir is associated with movies where the only real theme is the downward spiral of the protagonist. Occasionally, as in the noirs that came out during World War II, we'll see these films delve into something larger like the "growing Nazi menace", but for the most part that's simply overlay for the general development of mood or atmosphere that the director is trying to bring to the screen. Rarely do we find a director really trying to confront anything larger than one man's personal downfall.

Perhaps that's part of what makes the films of Elia Kazan, and this film  in particular, stand out from the typical noir fare, and why it would go on to win two Academy Awards.

Kazan, who would, at the same time he was becoming renowned not only for his body of film work which included A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront and East of Eden as well as for developing and promoting the "method" style of acting and founding (along with Lee Strasburg and others) the famed Actor's Studio, become somewhat infamous for his testimony as a "friendly witness" before the House Unamerican Activities Committee in which he named eight of his fellow former Group Theater members as having been Communists, was never one to shy away from including and introducing issues that he was interested in in any of his films. In this particular one, the main issues that stand out are illegal immigration and the public's ''need to know" about an impending health threat.

The plot starts out fairly simply. Somewhere in New Orleans, a man named Kochak is killed during a brawl over a poker game. However, when his body is examined by Dr. Clinton Reed (Richard Widmark) it becomes obvious that the man was dying anyway - of the "pnuemonic plague". In an attempt to keep word from getting out and causing the titular panic, and yet at the same time stop the spread of the virulent plague, Reed and the police soon find themselves enmeshed in an underworld of lies and deceit where no one can be trusted, not only because of possible criminal activities, but because they want to protect their fellow immigrants. Soon the film becomes as much about how much information one should be willing to give up in the name of the public good, as well as how much information the public really needs, as it is about actually finding the killers.

The parallels between the conflicts of the immigrants and Kazan's own decisions only a few years later are, of course, blatantly obvious.

Besides Widmark, the film stars Zero Mostel (himself a victim of the HUAC blacklist, though not one of those given up by Kazan), a debuting Jack Palance, and the always lovely Barbara Bel Geddes.

Here's a short clip showing the death that sets everything in motion:

And the Skinny:
Title: Panic in the Streets
Release Date: 1950
Running Time: 96 min
Black and White
Starring: Richard Widmark
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Produced by: Sol C. Siegel
Distributed by 20th Century Fox

Panic in the Streets is available to download or watch for free here.
It's also available for purchase on DVD from Amazon: Panic in the Streets (Fox Film Noir)

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian


Post a Comment

Unless otherwise noted, all movies discussed on this blog and all associated materials are believed to be in the Public Domain. If you are a copyright holder for any of these materials, please email me. Unless otherwise noted, all material created for this blog by Professor Damian is licensed under a Creative Commons license as described below. Creative Commons License
Professor Damian's Public Domain Treasure Chest by Professor Damian is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Powered by Blogger Blogger Templates create by Deluxe Templates. WP by Masterplan