Panic In The Streets

Panic In The Streets (1950)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes
Extras: Commentary Track, Trailers

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has just started a branded line for their ’Film Noir’ releases, launching with brand with a strong line-up of titles that includes, among others, Elia Kazan’s 1950 thriller ’Panic In The Streets.’

Starring Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas and Barabara Bel Geddes, this film tells the dark story of an impending epidemic. When the police fishes a bullet-ridden corpse from the New Orleans dock, they realize the man was carrying the plague. But identity of the body is unknown, potentially that of an illegal immigrant. Frantically Clinton Reed (Richard Widmark) from the Public Health Service tries to convince city officials that this could spell doom not only on New Orleans but on the entire United States. They have to quickly find everyone who got in contact with the man in order to prevent the deadly disease to spread and quickly destroy the lives of millions of people. Everyone, includes of course the killer of the unknown man…

Not your typical gumshoe story, ’Panic In The Streets’ may be a bit of an exception from the genre rule but it is nonetheless an incredibly dark vision of an event that could indeed happen anywhere, even today. Once again, Richard Widmark is huffing and puffing at his very best, but also bringing across the human side of the health officer, who has a family he is exceedingly concerned about. But nothing can stop him as he tries to unravel this case and puts himself in danger in the course of it. Paul Douglas makes for an imposing bad guy with both compassion and a cold-bloodedness that marks a great film viallin.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is presenting the movie in its original fullframe aspect ratio on this DVD. The transfer is good, though not exceptional. Occasionally the image is riddled with grain – especially during the optically treated credit sequences – and also shows some blemishes and scratches. Still, it is a very enjoyable presentation which nicely reproduces the stark black and white image of the film.Highlights are balanced and never bloom while the black levels are deep and solid with good shadow definition. No edge enhancement or compression artifacts mar the presentation.

The DVD contains a stereo audio track in English, as well as mono tracks in French and Spanish. The audio is mostly untreated and has an audibly limited frequency response, resulting in a harsh sounding presentation. Fortunately however, the tracks are free of distortion or background noises and hiss, making for a presentation that may sound dated but is technically without flaws.

A commentary track by authors and historians James Ursini and Alain Silver is included on the DVD as a supplement, allowing them to shed some additional light on the movies of the era, as well as many aspects of this production in particular. They certainly know their stuff and reveal a great number of details and insights that you may not be aware of, so check it out if you’re a genre fans.

Anyone who creates a ’Film noir’ line of titles is a friend of mine, and although these releases from Fox may not show the splendor of some other releases, at least you can tell that they were not releases as shovelware. Some work and effort went into it despite its low $14.98 suggested retail price, making sure fans of the genre will enjoy decent presentations of these vintage movies.