Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Elia Kazan's "Panic in the Streets" (1950)
Panic in the Streets is an ambitious film noir from acclaimed director Elia Kazan. At heart, this film is more than noir. It touches upon the distinct genres of the classic paranoia, disaster, and epidemic films. When a man that is carrying a form of the plague is killed, health worker Clint Reed (Richard Widmark) and police captain Tom Warren (Paul Douglas) have the dubious task of tracking down the man (or men) who killed him in 48 hours. Kazan captures this films tension almost perfectly. There's a sense of heated tension between the new partners Reed and Warren, for example. Thanks to Richard Widmark's great performance it comes off as convincing as can be. Tension is evident everywhere in the film. From Reed's own home to the low life thugs like Blackie (Jack Palance) who are dealing with their own problems thanks to the plague. This, in my opinion, helps the viewer become far more entangled in the sprawling story and process. There's a lot going on here making for a roller coaster detective thrill ride.
Panic in the Streets is a one of a kind film noir. Set in New Orleans and using a fair share of amateur actors that were New Orleans natives, Panic in the Streets has a sense of unrivaled realism. Kazan masterfully lays out the story in front of your eyes. This is the first Kazan film I have seen and even on the first viewing I can tell he knows exactly what he wanted and what he was doing. I've always loved film noir and have always loved films that deal with a group of people (or a city) dealing with some sort of threat of an epidemic or disaster. I always think that it's interesting to see how different people react and deal with a situation. This is greatly touched upon within the film. The mayor worries about his reputation the immediate population while Reed worries about the country, and on a larger scale, the world. The combination of these two genres with Richard Widmark leading the way on screen was essentially heaven to me. Whether Widmark is playing one of the most evil villains of all time (Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death) or a health worker trying to essentially save a city and the country, he always plays it with an edge, and it's no different this time. It's a must see for all fans of film alike.
4.5 STARS OUT OF 5