Panic in the Streets (1950)

panic_in_the_streets_1950It disappoints me that I was not more taken with the material than I was but despite not being wholly engaged, there are still some fascinating aspects to Panic in the Streets. Though a somewhat simple picture, it seems possible that I might just need to give it a second viewing soon. Let’s begin with the reality.

This noir docudrama is somehow not as tense as some of Elia Kazan’s other works. In fact, it’s port locale anticipate the memorable atmosphere of On The Waterfront, although it’s hard to stand up to such a revered classic. Still, the film does have its own appeals.

It begins with a gritty setting full of grungy character and New Orleans charm that continues the trend of post-war films taking the movie cameras to the streets and to the people who actually dwell there. In this way, the film shares some similarities to The Naked City.

The acting talent is also a wonderful strength with Richard Widmark playing our lead, Lt. Commander Clint Reed, this time on the right side of the law as a Naval Doctor trying to contain an outbreak of pneumonic plague before it spreads exponentially. His compatriot is played by the always enjoyable Paul Douglas a world-wearied police captain who must grin and bear joining forces with Reed.

The film is full of seedy undesirables and the most important and memorable one is Jack Palance (in his screen debut) showing off his tough as nails personality that was certainly no fluke. His right hand blubbering crony is the equally conniving Zero Mostel and together they make a slimy pair for the police to close in on. Because it’s one of their associates who ends up murdered but it’s only in the coroner’s office where they find out he was infected with something fierce.

This sets the sirens going off in Reed’s head and while not an alarmist, he wants everyone to consider the gravity of the situation. He has some trouble working with the police but he also seems to understand that this is not an isolated issue but it can affect his family — his wife Nancy (Barbara Bel Geddes) and his precocious boy (Tommy Rettig). But not just his immediate circle, but his entire community. And so he and Captain Warren race against the clock to not only to prevent an epidemic but solve a crime and apprehend the perpetrators. So this is undoubtedly your typical police procedural enlivened by New Orleans but there are also different layers to what is going on that have broader implications.

For instance, what do you tell the press? Do you keep it under wraps or let them shout it from the rooftops so the criminals get away scot-free — like rats fleeing the scene of the crime? Are you just looking for the murderers or are you considering the entire community at large? These questions deserve to be parsed through more thoroughly than I possibly can. So while Panic in the Streets is more methodical than a tense drama there are some very good things to it. Namely its location, its cast, and the universal nature of its central conflict.

3.5/5 Stars

The Producers (1968)

425cf-the_producers_1968Directed and written by Mel Brooks and starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, this satirical comedy revolves around a producer and a lowly accountant who scheme to produce a flop so they can run off with the production money. The plan quickly develops thanks to the enthusiasm of Max Bialystock because he is fed up with romancing elderly women for money. They wade through numerous scripts finally settling on one titled “Springtime for Hitler.” They get the rights from the deranged writer, find their equally odd director, and a groovy hippie is cast as Hitler. Everything seems set for failure on opening night when the audience appears aghast. However, when the two producers go to celebrate the reaction changes and the crowd misinterprets LSD’s portrayal of Hitler as satire. The show is a success so in one last ditch effort they destroy the theater. Bialystock and Bloom finds themselves injured, arrested, and finally tried in court for being incredibly guilty. Despite an impassioned entreaty by Bloom the two men find themselves in jail but it isn’t so bad because they go back into the production business and they are up to the same old tricks again. This film was important as Mel Brooks’ first great triumph. True it is vulgar, irreverent, and in bad taste but I think that is exactly what Brooks was going for to get a laugh. And I have to say “Springtime for Hitler” has to be one of the most annoying songs I have ever heard. Aside from that I suppose this movie does have some funny parts.
4/5 Stars