Panic In the Streets (1950, directed by Elia Kazan)


The plague has come to New Orleans.

A dead body is found on the New Orleans wharf.  He’s dead because he was shot several times but an autopsy reveals that he would have died anyways because he was suffering from a form of the bubonic plague!  In order to keep the plague from spreading through the city (and also to hopefully save the lives of anyone who has been infected), Dr. Clint Reed (Richard Widmark) and police captain Tom Warren (Paul Douglas) have to isolate everyone who the man came into contact with.  But first, they’re going to have to discover that man’s identity and also how he came to end up dead on the docks of New Orleans.

What Dr. Reed doesn’t know is that the man was named Kolchak and that he was murdered by a small-time gangster named Blackie (Jack Palance, making his film debut).  Now, Blackie and his associate, Fitch (Zero Mostel) are both infected and are both looking to get out of town.  Of course, if either one of them succeeds in leaving New Orleans, they’ll spread the plague through the entire country.

Largely filmed on location in New Orleans and focusing as much on Dr. Reed as it does on the criminals that he’s pursuing, Panic In The Streets is an effective mix of film noir, medical drama and police procedural.  Seen under normal circumstances, Panic in the Streets is a good thriller.  Seen during a time when the news is dominated by COVID-19 and riots in large cities, Panic in the Streets feels damn near prophetic.

Richard Widmark does a good job playing Dr. Reed, who is portrayed as being a no-nonsense professional.  He’s type of doctor who you want on your side if there’s a plague coming to town.  Not surprisingly, though, the film is stolen by Jack Palance as the smirking Blackie.  This was Palance’s film debut but he already knew how to be the most intimidating man in the room.  Zero Mostel also has some good scenes as Blackie’s associate and his sweaty and fearful performance provides a good contrast to Palance’s more controlled villainy.

One interesting thing about Panic in The Streets is that Dr. Reed and Capt. Warren are actually able to convince a newspaper reporter to delay filing a report about the plague, mostly to avoid a mass panic in the streets.  Though he takes some convincing (and Warren’s methods aren’t exactly Constitutional), the reporter finally agrees to hold off on reporting for four hours.  With the 24-hour news cycle and the dominance of social media, that’s not something that could happen today.

Comedy Tonight: A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (United Artists 1966)


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Director Richard Lester made the jump from The Beatles to Broadway in filming A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, but it wasn’t that far a leap. In adapting the Tony-winning musical comedy to the screen, Lester energizes the film with his unmistakably 60’s cinematic style, resulting in one of the decade’s best comedies, aided and abetted by a cast of pros including Zero Mostel , Phil Silvers, Jack Gilford, and the great Buster Keaton in his final film performance.

The credits roll to the tune of Stephen Sondheim’s “Comedy Tonight”, which may be my favorite song from any musical, as Zero introduces us to the main players. He’s Psuedolus, a slave owned by young Hero (Michael Crawford), son of unhappily married Senex (Michael Hordern) and his shrewish (not Jewish) wife Domina (Patricia Jessel, who’s a riot!). Hero has fallen in love with Philia (Annette Andre), the…

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Hiding in Plain Sight: THE FRONT (Columbia 1976)


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When a film gets labeled as a “comedy-drama”, chances are good you’re in for an uneven film. Such is the case with THE FRONT, Martin Ritt’s 1976 movie about the 1950’s blacklist. There are plenty of things to like about the movie, especially in the performances, but the somewhat heavy-handed script by Walter Bernstein results in an undeniably mixed bag.

Woody Allen  stars as Howard Prince, a lowly cashier perpetually up to his glasses in gambling debts, whose childhood friend Alfred Miller (Michael Murphy) is a blacklisted TV writer. Miller asks Howard to “front” for him, putting his name on Miller’s scripts so the networks will buy them, in return for a 10% commission. Soon the network clamors for more of Howard’s “work”, and he begins fronting for two other blacklisted writers. Although Woody didn’t write or direct THE FRONT, he’s still basically playing his nebbishy ‘Woody’ persona, but with…

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