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Elia Kazan
Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jack Palance, Zero Mostel, Dan Riss, Tommy Cook
Writing Credits:
Edna Anhalt (stories, "Quarantine" and "Some Like 'Em Cold"), Edward Anhalt (stories, "Quarantine" and "Some Like 'Em Cold"), Daniel Fuchs, Richard Murphy

Watch out!

One night in the New Orleans slums, vicious hoodlum Blackie and his friends kill an illegal immigrant who won too much in a card game. When Dr. Clint Reed confirms the dead man had pneumonic plague he must find and inoculate the killers and their associates. Can a doctor turn detective? He has 48 hours to try ...

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $24.99
Release Date: 3/26/2013

• Audio Commentary with Authors/Historians Alain Silver and James Ursini
• “Jack Palance: From Grit to Grace” Documentary
• “Richard Widmark: Strength of Characters” Documentary
• Trailer


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Panic In The Streets [Blu-Ray] (1950)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 29, 2013)

What with SARS, anthrax and other similar concerns, threats to the public health have been prominent in the news in recent years. Understandably, few things freak out people quite like the possibility of highly contagious diseases. Fairly recent flicks like Outbreak explore these concerns, but thoughts that this is a truly modern topic disappear when we view 1950’s Panic in the Streets.

Set in New Orleans, we see a card game run by a gangster named Blackie (Walter Jack Palance). Another player named Kochak (Lewis Charles) takes ill and leaves, but Blackie wants the money he lost so he sends his goons to get it. One of them ends up shooting Kochak and they then dump the corpse in the river.

Authorities find the body and take it to the morgue for an autopsy. Coroner Kleber (George Ehmig) gets concerned when he examines the body, so he contacts Dr. Clinton Reed (Richard Widmark) of the US Public Health Service. Reed doesn’t like what he sees so he insists they immediately cremate the body and inoculate anyone who came into contact with the corpse. Reed also alerts the authorities that Kochak might have carried pneumonic plague and he warns them that they have only 48 hours to find anyone who encountered the dead dude.

This means they need to track down the killer of a John Doe in two days, and that sounds like a nearly impossible task. Reed gets partnered with cop Captain Tom Warren (Paul Douglas) to work on the case. The two aren’t wild about each other as Warren thinks it’s a futile quest. The rest of the movie follows the investigation and their attempt to head off a serious public health issue.

While Outbreak turned plague into action/adventure, Panic manages to make a film noir out of the subject. Actually, it feels like part crime story and part thriller as we nervously await the potential spread of the disease. The incubation period acts as the movie’s ticking clock to add urgency to the affair.

To be sure, Panic offers a good premise, which is probably why we’ve seen others follow the same path since then. While it relies on some genre conventions, it takes more than a few clever turns along the way.

Among those is the buddy element. I’ve seen enough movies to know that eventually Reed and Warren will develop mutual respect for each other after their initial bickering, but that doesn’t make the theme less effective here. It helps that we see good chemistry between Widmark and Douglas. They crackle against each other since they’re both pretty tough, and it feels like true antagonism, not the usual cutesy stuff.

Widmark definitely creates a different kind of lead character. He makes for a quirky protagonist due to his gruff demeanor. What kind of bedside manner must this doctor have? He always acts like he’s about to punch somebody. That might be awkward in real life, but it works for the film.

Tight and tense, Panic in the Streets creates a solid race against time. With its lively characters and a clever idea, it manages to turn into something consistently involving and unusual.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C+/ Bonus B

Panic in the Streets appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The transfer gave us a pretty good reproduction of the film.

Usually sharpness appeared nicely tight and distinctive, but some exceptions occurred. Though I suspect these came from the source photography, I still saw a bit of softness on occasion. I didn’t think those concerns because problematic, though, as the definition was fine most of the time. No issues with shimmering or jagged edges occurred.

Despite the film’s advanced age, source flaws were non-existent; this was a clean presentation. A good layer of grain appeared, so I didn’t suspect significant noise reduction. Contrast was strong, as the movie consistently maintained a nice silver tone. Blacks were deep and firm, while shadows were smooth and well-defined. Outside of the minor softness, this was a terrific presentation.

As for the film’s DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack, it was dated but decent. Speech tended to be intelligible but without much life; the lines seemed a bit rough and edgy. A fair amount of reverb also occurred, but that seemed to stem from the original recordings.

Music seemed acceptably bright and lively; the score didn’t show great pizzazz, but those elements demonstrated fair dimensionality. Effects were also acceptable but not much better; these components came across as accurate most of the time despite a little distortion at times. Though this wasn’t a great track, it was at least average for its age.

How does the Blu-ray compare to the DVD version from 2005? Audio was fairly similar, though the Blu-ray dispensed with the stereo remix found on the DVD. That was fine with me – I didn’t think it worked well – but the mono tracks on the discs seemed pretty similar.

Visuals offered good improvements, though. The Blu-ray came with better definition and was also cleaner. The DVD was fine but the Blu-ray worked better.

The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras. We launch with an audio commentary from authors/historians Alain Silver and James Ursini. Both men sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They cover the film’s place in director Elia Kazan’s career, its visual style and how it fits within the noir genre, casting and the actors, improvisation, locations and casting, and various facets of the production. Ursini and Silver go over a number of good topics, especially since they often refer to the film within its historical perspective.

That’s a positive and a negative. While we get a nice feel for how Panic fits in Kazan’s career and other connected elements, we don’t learn a ton about its making. I guess I’m used to thorough Rudy Behlmer-style tracks that cover everything under the sun, while this one lacks that level of preparation. It comes across as more impromptu than I’d like; I think commentaries from historians require a higher level of detail than what we find here. It’s definitely informative and worth a listen, but it doesn’t stand out as particularly terrific.

In addition to the trailer for Panic, we find two documentaries not on the 2005 DVD. Jack Palance: From Grit to Grace lasts 44 minutes, 10 seconds and includes comments from daughter Holly Palance, former wife Elaine Palance, sister Mary Weirson, brother John Palance, producer George Stevens, Jr., director Percy Adlon, TV producer Sam Lesante, grandchildren Spencer and Lilly Spottiswode, and actors Billy Crystal, Kiefer Sutherland, Anthony Quinn, Richard Widmark, Edward James Olmos, and Shelley Winters. We get a standard look at the actor’s life ad career. Nothing remarkable occurs here, but “Grace” delivers a concise enough take on Palance.

Richard Widmark: Strength of Characters runs 44 minutes, 13 seconds and features Widmark, daughter Anne Heath Widmark, film historian Eddie Muller, and actors Robert Wagner, Sidney Poitier, Karl Malden. “Strength” functions in the same way as “Grace” and works just as well. Actually, it’s probably more interesting just because Widmark himself appears here; even though Palance was still alive when they made “Grace”, we only heard from him in archival materials.

A film noir with a theme that remains timely, Panic in the Streets eschews the usual “hunt for a killer” clichés. Sure, it does look for a baddie, but with a clever backdrop that makes matters more compelling. This adds up to a tight little drama. The Blu-ray provides very good picture, decent audio and a useful collection of supplements. I like the movie and think the Blu-ray reproduces it well.

To rate this film visit the original review of PANIC IN THE STREETS

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