Sunday, April 13, 2008

Panic In the Streets

Panic In the Streets (Elia Kazan, 1950) [4]
Am I missing something here? Having been led to believe it was an underrated noir, I found it to be nothing of the genre and not very exciting at all. The greatest attribute I can give to the film is that is was filmed on location in New Orleans, but even though, the film rarely uses its location to its advantage to make the film more exciting or unique. Richard Widmark plays a milquetoast medical examiner that's brought into to do an autopsy on the murdered man. The victim is found to be carrying a form of the plague which leads to a massive manhunt for the murderers, an odd couple pairing of Zero Mostel and Jack Palance. The threat of a widespread epidemic also leads to political and bureaucratic in-fighting about who's in charge, what to tell the press and public, etc. Kazan handles these elements the best, which is a bit sad because they really should be secondary to the primary action of apprehending the two men who pose the most danger to the city. For a film that's called Panic In the Streets, it's amazing that no one really shows that much of that particular emotion. A lot of the talk between the Widmark character, the mayor, and the police is spent bickering about what to do without anyone any showing much of any emotion. Widmark's character is clearly meant to be the most immediate voice but there's a scene, in the dead middle of this supposed manhunt and possible epidemic, that he goes home and has a measured conversation with his wife. The logic of this moment is completely lost on me. If he's that concerned with the public welfare, this conversation could have clearly waited, couldn't it? The only characters that portray the correct emotional level throughout are the Mostel/Palace pairing, clearly confused why they've become such targets for what seemed like an inconsequential murder. Palance, physically imposing and intimidating, makes the perfect noir villain but is not utilized enough or correctly to his attributes. Kazan is a fine director, but he misses all the elements that make good film noir. I'm not even sure that this should be considered noir. Given its pedigree, Panic In the Streets is a perplexing disappointment.

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