Panic in the Streets Blu-ray Review

PanicintheStreets-1Panic in the Streets offers very good audio and video in this underrated release.

To study the resume of Director Elia Kazan is like taking a moment to relive some of the best films of the 1950’s.  From East of Eden, On the Waterfront, and A Streetcar Named Desire, there were few directors who could match Kazan’s style or substance.  Because Waterfront and Desire represented important bookends in to his career, it’s hard to put a film like 1950’s Panic in the Street in the same category; but, one would be well-advised not to make that mistake.  Panic is Kazan’s transition from theater productions to a very realistic-looking filmic style that would follow him most of his career,resulting in two Oscars and two dozen nominations.  The release of Panic in the Streets onto Blu-ray signifies an important phase of his career that any fan of film will appreciate, with good video and audio transfers.


The film deals with a highly contagious pneumonic plague that has appeared at he docks of New Orleans, leading Lt. Cmdr. Clint Reed (Richard Widmark, Kiss of Death) and police Captain Warren (Paul Douglas, Angels in the Outfield) on a classic detective caper to discover the virus before it infects the entire city.  Unknowingly caught in the middle is small-time crook and money launderer Blackie (Jack Palance, City Slickers) and his thugs – the badly over-combed Raymond (Zero Mostel, The Producers) and the sickened Poldi (Guy Thomajan) – who think the police are pursuing them for their murder of an infected man whose body is discovered in the harbor.  Reed’s home life is Noir complicated, with his wife Nancy (Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas) trying to balance Reed’s constant absence with their son’s needs for a strong fatherly figure.  As Reed and Warren attempt to uncover the severity of the plague, the two butt heads over tactics but are forced to work together before the disease begins to spread uncontrollably.

Panic will be remembered as the film that launched Palance’s career as the psychopathic murderer that he would play so many times throughout his career.  It’s Kazan’s ability to keep this nearly volcanic personality so  cool-under-fire which makes Palance so effective here, especially considering the wild ride Palance’s career would eventually take.  The same goes for Widmark, who makes a nice transition himself from the evil Tommy Udo to the hero Dr. Reed.  But, it’s also Kazan’s utilization of real New Orleans sets, props, and citizens who he incorporated into the film that lends a real credibility to things.

Panic in the Streets  also represents a shift from the 1940 ‘s noir of greedy, unattractive people trying to get their piece of the pie, to the various social issues of the 50’s.  It’s really Kazan’s use of this documentary-style of film noir that makes him so effective.  Most moveigoers would be hard-pressed to find such long-take, single-shot scenes in today’s movies, partially because Hollywood dismisses this style no better than a soap opera.  But that’s Panic’s strength, as Kazan wraps the audience in a tense drama that slowly builds until its crescendo of plague is unleashed.  His use of tracking shots and other ‘sustained camera’ effects are like watching a mesmerizing lecture on Noir Film Craft 101.  Considering the enormous future success which Kazan experienced, it’s almost as if Panic in the Streets represented a highly-successful but quickly forgotten experiment which deserves more attention.


Panic in the Streets features a 1080p MPEG-4/AVC-encoded presentation that’s probably better than’s far better than the movie has ever looked.  It’s clear that the print used was not of the quality of other Kazan re-releases, complete with white specks.  But overall the print is in very good condition.  There’s zero evidence of scratches or other issues inherent in DVD releases from the 90’s, which leads me to believe that 20th Century Fox actually took the time to bring this to a proper release.  Contrast is as good as can be expected with blacks transitioning to shadows and whites showing off good detail.  Facial features, even in black and white, are detailed as is hair and sweat.  Outdoor night scenes, a prominent feature of Panic,  remain sharp even in the backgrounds.  I also like the grain, which has mostly been preserved to match the gritty realism of the New Orleans back alleys.  Overall, Fox has done a fine job bringing Panic in the Streets to high definition.


Films before the age of high definition always seem to suffer when the arrive on Blu-ray – that’s not the case with Panic.  Fox presents a cleaned up lossless DTS-HD Master Audio monaural track that’s the best one can hope for.  Gone are the incessant noisy pops, hissing, and general issues that Hollywood would impart upon an unsuspecting DVD audience.  In its place is clear dialogue, crisp jazz music in the background, and authentic-sounding street and harbor effects.  Considering the time period and the limitations of audio reproductions, Panic in the Street is solid.


Panic in the Street arrives with several decent supplements (albeit in SD) that help to shed further light on the film and its stars.  However, it’s missing a biography on the director, which I think would have been more appropriate given the importance of this of film.  Otherwise, it includes the following:

  • Commentary from film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini: Our hosts provide great insights about the actors and the film itself by educating us on Film Noir explaining the timeframe of Panic‘s original release.
  • Jack Palance: From Grit to Grace (SD, 44:10): In a 2001 television special about Palance’s life and career narrated by reporter Harry Smith, the feature brings an entirely different perspective of the actor than we’ve ever known.  There’s also plenty of insightful interviews by current stars such as co-stars Kiefer Sutherland, Billy Crystal, and Edward James Almos.
  • Richard Widmark: Strength of Characters (SD, 44:13): Another actor feature from 1999, this time on Widmark, is narrated by actor Peter Graves.  Widmark joins the discussion of his career, along with co-stars Richard Wagner, Sidney Poitier, and friend Karl Malden.
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:12)


While not his most well-known work, Panic in the Streets is Elia Kazan at his most underrated.  Considering your plague alternatives include the terrible Contagion or Outbreak, you could do a lot worse than picking up this quality character-driven release.  This is probably going to be the only version of Panic in the Street available for some time, so if you’re a fan of Film Noir or Kazan’s better known films, it’s absolutely essential.  The film is Not Rated and has a runtime of 96 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow HDN fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @HidefNinja, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

About the author

Besides being an ardent burrito eater and an exceptional sleeper, Matt shares in your passion for all things movies and Blu-ray. He also loves special editions and is known to triple-dip on command.