The granddaddy of all contagion-themed thrillers, Elia Kazan’s Panic in the Streets really shows how it should be done. Filmed in a noir style with a superb handful of actors and on location in New Orleans when that was the exception rather than the rule, Panic in the Streets slowly twists the tension-knife in a spellbinding pseudo-documentary style that makes it seem really true-to-life. The film holds up well today, too: a sure sign of its intrinsic quality.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 36 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Release Date: 03/26/2013
When a body is discovered in the New Orleans docks with two bullet holes in it, the coroner also notices clear signs of an unusual infection. Calling on Lieutenant. Commander Dr. Clint Reed (Richard Widmark) of the U.S. Public Health Service, the doctor identifies it as the highly infectious pneumonic plague. Thus Dr. Reed in league with police captain Tom Warren (Paul Douglas) must begin to trace all the people the man came into contact with, likely infecting them as well before a full-scale epidemic bursts out of New Orleans and begins to infect the entire country. The problem is that the dock workers and penny ante crooks the man was in with don’t want to be identified by the police or anyone else, so they go out of their way to keep identities secret thus making the threat of the spreading plague a real hazard for the city.The Oscar-winning original story by Edward and Edna Anhalt (fashioned into a screenplay by Richard Murphy and Daniel Fuchs) cleverly lets the audience in on the identities of the infected people while the health officials and the police are running themselves ragged trying to locate them AND keep the information from the press for fear of a city-wide panic. In fact, director Elia Kazan stages the first scene (with gorgeous chiaroscuro lighting and deep shadows) where the infected man is murdered by local hood Blackie (Jack Palance) accompanied by his toady Raymond Fitch (Zero Mostel) and the man’s younger brother Vince (Tommy Cook), all prime carriers of the disease (though they themselves don’t know it). From then on, we switch back and forth between the officials trying to inoculate anyone who might have come into contact with the man and the potentially sick men whose time is running out. But by the film’s final quarter hour, tension has reached the breaking point, and Kazan stages a full-out chase scene through a warehouse and down to the docks to catch Blackie and Fitch. There’s truly not a second of wasted time in this very tightly directed and expertly staged 96-minute film.Richard Widmark’s intensity and single-minded dedication to the task at hand is wonderfully realized in the movie, and he delivers one of his least showy and most wonderfully modulated performances. As his wife in a few scenes of domestic give-and-take (which some folks may feel is at odds with the focus of the rest of the movie), Barbara Bel Geddes is a fetching but distinctly unshowy presence. More forceful is Paul Douglas as Captain Warren who keeps up a running antagonism with Widmark’s Clint through much of the movie. Jack Palance in an early display of his magnetic but restrained strength as Blackie etches a memorable performance as the film’s chief villain. Zero Mostel’s Fitch is a bit theatrical compared to those around him, but Dan Riss as the nosy newsman Neff gets to say his piece about journalistic rights versus the public good that might have been a movie all its own.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
The film’s original theatrical 1.33:1 aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is very pleasing throughout with much detail to be seen in the fabrics of clothes and hair. The grayscale doesn’t boast the deepest black levels possible, but they’re generally fine. There is a bit of shimmer in a couple of shots, but otherwise the encode is rock solid. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is exactly what one would expect from a film of this vintage. Engineers have done a superlative job dealing with audio artifacts like hiss, crackle, pops, and flutter, and there’s little of it to be heard here (just some slight hiss on occasion). Dialogue is always completely discernible and is never overwhelmed by the sound effects or Alfred Newman’s music.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentary: film historians James Ursini and Alain Silver contribute one of their typically talkative analyses.Jack Palance: From Grit to Grace (44:10, SD): an excellent episode from the television series Biography which features friends, family, and co-workers commenting on the life and work of the famous actor.Richard Widmark: Strength of Characters (44:13, SD) an excellent episode from the television series Biography narrated by Peter Graves which features friends, family, and co-workers commenting on the life and work of the famous actor. Widmark was still alive when the program was produced so he adds his own comments to accompany the trip through his life and work.Theatrical Trailer (2:12, SD)
Special Features Rating: 3.5/5
An efficient Elia Kazan film that masterfully bridges the period between his message pictures like Gentleman’s Agreement and Pinky and his increasingly cinematic endeavors with more political and satiric themes like Viva Zapata, On the Waterfront, and A Face in the Crowd, Panic in the Streets remains an effective thriller. This new Blu-ray release earns a most welcome recommendation.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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