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When a body is found in the New Orleans docks, it's pretty obvious that he died from gun shot wounds. The police surgeon notices that the man is also displaying other symptoms and Lt. Commander Clint Reed, a doctor with the U.S. Public Health Service, diagnoses a highly contagious disease, pneumonic plague. He tries to convince local officials to find everyone who may have been in contact with the dead man. The Mayor supports his efforts but many, including the police, are doubtful. Reed wants to avoid publicity so as not to panic the public. They have little information to go on - they don't know the dead man's identity - and Reed estimates they have 48 hours before disease begins to spread. With police Capt. Tom Warren going through the motions, Reed sets out to find the killers. Written by
In an early scene when Dr. Reed (Richard Widmark) is shown painting with his son, he flicks excess paint off the brush, and then sits on the same spot where the paint would have landed, but when he gets up there's no paint on his pants. See more »
In Panic In The Streets Richard Widmark plays U.S. Navy doctor who has his week rudely interrupted with a corpse that contains plague. As cop Paul Douglas properly points out the guy died from two bullets in the chest. That's not the issue here, the two of them become unwilling partners in an effort to find the killers and anyone else exposed to the disease.
As was pointed out by any number of people, for some reason director Elia Kazan did not bother to cast the small parts with anyone that sounds like they're from Louisiana. Having been to New Orleans where the story takes place I can personally attest to that. Richard Widmark and his wife Barbara Bel Geddes can be excused because as a Navy doctor he could be assigned there, but for those that are natives it doesn't work.
But with plague out there and the news being kept a secret, the New Orleans PD starts a dragnet of the city's underworld. The dead guy came off a ship from Europe and he had underworld connections. A New Orleans wise guy played by Jack Palance jumps to a whole bunch of erroneous conclusions and starts harassing a cousin of the dead guy who is starting to show plague symptoms. Palance got rave reviews in the first film where he received notice.
Personally my favorite in this film is Zero Mostel. This happened right before Mostel was blacklisted and around that time he made a specialty of playing would be tough guys who are really toadies. He plays the same kind of role in the Humphrey Bogart film, The Enforcer. Sadly I can kind of identify with Mostel in that last chase scene where he and Palance are being chased down by Widmark, Douglas, and half the New Orleans Police. Seeing the weight challenged Zero trying to keep up with Palance was something else because I'm kind of in Zero's league now in the heft department.
Kazan kept the action going at a good clip, there's very little down time in this film. If there was any less it would be an Indiana Jones film. Panic In The Streets won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay that year.
Kazan also made good use of the New Orleans waterfront and the French Quarter. Some of the same kinds of shots are later used in On the Waterfront. In fact Panic In The Streets is about people not squealing when they really should in their own best interest. Very similar again to On the Waterfront.
Panic In The Streets does everyone proud who was associated with it. Now why couldn't Elia Kazan get some decent New Orleans sounding people in the small roles.
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