“If the killer is incubating pneumonic plague, he can start spreading it within 48 hours!”
A public health doctor (Richard Widmark) tries to convince a police captain (Paul Douglas) that a dead man (Lewis Charles) riddled with pneumonic plague represents a dire threat to society — at least until his unknown killers (Jack Palance, Zero Mostel, and Guy Thomajan) are caught.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Elia Kazan Films
- Jack Palance Films
- Murder Mystery
- Paul Douglas Films
- Richard Widmark Films
Jack Palance burst menacingly onto the big-screen in this gritty precursor to Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011), directed by Elia Kazan with assistance from DP Joseph MacDonald. Richard Widmark counteracts his iconic performance as a vile racist in the same year’s No Way Out (1950) by serving here as the man literally responsible for saving humanity — if only he can get law enforcement to believe the gravity of the situation. (Shades of the recent Ebola crisis definitely emerge.)* The storyline is tense from the get-go, as we see Palance’s cold-blooded determination to kill for money, and understand how seemingly impossible Widmark’s request to locate the unknown victim’s killer(s) really is. As the clock ticks, Widmark forgoes both sleep and time with his understanding wife (Barbara Bel Geddes) and son (Tommy Rettig) to follow through on any lead at all, even as his life is repeatedly put at risk. Richard Murphy and Daniel Fuchs’ adaptation of Edna and Edward Anhalt’s story takes us through a variety of settings in New Orleans, with authentic-looking extras peppering the screen. The performances are all excellent, and even minor roles are carefully directed by Kazan — as in a critical early scene when a medical examiner (George Ehmig) recognizes the danger he’s seeing in Charles’ corpse and coolly but firmly takes action. This one is well worth seeking out.
Update (February 3, 2021): And… of course… COVID-19.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Fine performances by the entire cast
- Excellent noir cinematography by DP Joseph MacDonald
- Good use of authentic locales and extras
Yes. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.