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Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Just five months after Elia Kazan’s PANIC IN THE STREETS showed a criminal gang unknowingly spreading bubonic plague over New Orleans, this modest knock-off had diamond smugglers doing much the same for smallpox in NYC. Naturally, police & medical authorities rush in to solve the case and stop the epidemic before it takes off, sometimes working to cross purposes. That’s the set up on both pics with this ‘B’-item from Columbia rushed thru production to catch PANIC’s box-office drippings. There’s some nice b&w location stuff from lenser Joseph Biroc and a decent cast (Evelyn Keyes, Dorothy Malone, Whit Bissell ), but the retread story turns out to be less interesting than spotting the changes in story construction that move PANIC to a higher plain. In Kazan’s pic, the cops & medical authorities work together right from the start, but fight bitterly over tactics. KILLER blindsides the two arms of the law for most of the story (diamond chasing Feds & smallpox chasing Meds), so the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing. Theoretically, this should double the tension, but in practice, you wind up losing all the conflict that develops between the two sets of good guys. In the Kazan pic, that’s Richard Widmark & Paul Douglas, which is a tough tag-team to beat, and a nice little lesson in plot mechanics.

DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned above, double-bill this with PANIC IN THE STREETS/'50.

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