Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: Panic In The Streets (1950)

Ebola!

Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Richard Murphy (BOOMERANG, COMPULSION), Daniel Fuchs (CRISS CROSS), based on a story by Edward & Edna Anhalt (SATAN BUG).
Starring: Richard Widmark, Barbara Bel Geddes, Paul Douglas, and the great Jack Palance and great Zero Mostel.


After seeing DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES sunday night, with it's opening montage showing us news footage of the plague that wipes out almost all human life on Earth, I thought it would be fun to look at a film from the past with a different look at the plague. 1950's PANIC IN THE STREETS stars Richard Widmark as a CDC doctor... not a crazed killer or a snarky hit man! He's the good guy in this one. The film takes place in New Orleans, and was shot on location (unusual for this time period) but was directed by Elia Kazan, the dude who took advantage of the new method style of acting and married it to a documentary style of cinema with great results. Kazan's *next* film was A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and a few films after that he directed ON THE WATERFRONT, and then EAST OF EDEN. Though most of his films dealt with a social issue, he was working in a time where the easiest way to do that was in crime films like this one.

Our story starts when a guy is murdered... but he would have died anyway because he had the plague. The plague! Now it's a race-against-time search for the killer (Jack Palance)... who also has the plague and is *spreading it* with every person he touches. Doctor Widmark and Detective Paul Douglas have 48 hours to find Palance before creates a city-wide epidemic. This is a great idea because "patient zero" is someone who does not want to be found (because he's a killer).


There are chase scenes and shoot outs and fight scenes and a plane chasing a plague ship and... well, it's danged exciting. It's a thriller. But it also really gets into police vs. doctors vs. city politics vs. freedom of the press vs. the public good. Because this crisis - the killer roaming the streets with the plague - requires all kinds of difficult decisions - and as they argue in a speeding car whether they should kill this guy (because he's a menace to society) or make sure they don't kill him (because they need to know everyone he came into contact with) we get to examine the way society works - and why our version may not work.

We get to look at what's right, what's wrong, what works and what doesn't work. Should they give the press the story to possibly save lives... even though that will force the killer underground and they won't capture him in time? Is freedom of the press more important than capturing a criminal? The film really digs into issues.

It also digs into character - Widmark is a low paid government doctor who hides in his work, causing problems with his wife Barbara Bel Geddes and their kid. There are some great family issues going on during the crisis, including Widmark's decision *not* to get his family out of town as they get closer and closer to the crisis point. (Some of the detectives gets their families out of the danger zone). The film works as a pursuit film, a gangster film, a cop film, a social issues film, and a drama... and *won* Best Screenplay that year. It manages to get everything right.


Plus there are a great pair of scenes between Widmark and Douglas, where Douglas completely takes responsibility for something Widmark did - to the point of endangering his future. Because it's what Widmark wanted, he doesn't notice the sacrifice. Later, when he realizes what Douglas has done, he kicks himself a bit... then later makes everything right by taking responsibility for something Douglas has done - that could really screw up Widmark's future.

The locations are amazing: coffee packing houses, ships, rooming houses, waterfront warehouses, and suburban homes. In a time where movies were shot in the back lot, this film explores New Orleans while avoiding anyplace you've ever seen in a tourist video. We get the places people live and work and avoid the tourist traps. It's a great, gritty look at the city. And there is an attention to detail that makes even the action set pieces very personal.

This is a really well written thriller, and when Widmark explains to the cops how Palance could hop a plane and spread the plague nation-wide within a day, it's really frightening. That's what could happen in the late-40s... imagine what could happen today?

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES!

Bill

No comments:

eXTReMe Tracker