B&W, 1950, 96 mins. 10 secs.
Directed by Elia Kazan
Starring Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jack Palance, Zero Mostel, Dan Riss, Tommy Cook
Signal One (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Fox (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

If Panic in the Streetsyou ever Panic in the Streetswondered what a combination of film noir, neorealism, and viral outbreak movie might be like, look no further than Panic in the Streets, still most noted today as a transitional title between two of director Elia Kazan’s biggest films, Gentlemen’s Agreement and A Streetcar Named Desire (with poor Pinky sandwiched in there, too). The title’s a bit misleading as there’s very little on-screen panic here (Slowly Simmering Tension in the Streets would have been less catchy), but it’s still a tight, unpredictable little thriller with solid performances at its center and a truly imposing debut turn by Jack Palance.

When an Armenian immigrant turns up dead in the New Orleans harbor after being gunned down by ruthless Blackie (Palance) and his goons, it turns out to be much more than your average crime scene. The deceased was carrying a virulent strain of the " pneumonic plague," a discovery that sends Dr. Clinton Reed (Widmark) and police captain Tom Warren (Douglas) on the hunt for his killer – who’s likely carrying a virus that can kill in 48 hours and spread to the rest of the population.

The decision to shoot this film on actual New Orleans Panic in the Streetslocations (a rarity at the time and a clear nod to the Italian postwar neorealist films flooding art houses at the time) turned out to be Panic in the Streetsa big budgetary problem that kept this film from turning a profit, but in the long run it’s a wise choice that gives the film a grittiness and urgency ahead of its time. It’s also fun to see the large-framed, tightly-wound Palance intimidating Widmark in what amounts to an updating of the latter’s classic villain role in Kiss of Death, including a memorable fracas under a pier near the end. (Apparently Widmark was no less intimidated by his costar in real life!) Unfortunately the always solid Barbara Bel Geddes is saddled with the film’s weakest material as the obligatory concerned wife, an aspect that gets way more screen time than necessary when we could be spending it out on the streets. Also noteworthy is the sheer weirdness of seeing Zero Mostel, best known for his musical comedy chops, as Palance’s lackey; strangely, his greasy hair and awkward body language make him an ideal casting choice once you get over the initial shock.

Panic in the Streets first appeared on DVD from Fox as part of its excellent line of noir classics (some of which pushed the definition of the term to the breaking point), with mono and echo-y Panic in the Streetsstereo options and extras including a fine audio commentary by Alain Silver and James Ursini, a 44-minute “Jack Palance: From Grit to Grace” TV bio special, Panic in the Streetsthe 44-minute “Richard Widmark: Strength of Characters,” and the theatrical trailer. The film eventually made its Blu-ray debut in 2013 from Fox with the DVD extras ported over. The 2017 edition from Signal One strips things down a bit, dropping the mostly irrelevant Palance and Widmark specials while retaining the audio commentary and trailer. A gallery of production stills is also added, and thankfully the LPCM English mono track is the sole option without the awkward stereo remix in sight. The Fox-provided HD transfer appears to be true to the dark, gritty intended look of the film without any major digital manipulation; film grain looks natural and the experience, while not pretty in any sort of traditional sense, is quite satisfying.

Reviewed on August 21, 2017.