Kazan was a truly gifted filmmaker. In the beginning we see a marvelous chase scene over tracks in front of an oncoming locomotive, without cuts, followed by one innovative shot after another. What is so pertinent to the events from late August of this year, however, is the film's ending. Widmark and his team prevail. New Orleans, gorgeously photographed entirely on location, is saved in the movie and now for posterity.
This film's original release came two years after the House Un-American Activities Committee blacklisted the Hollywood Ten, and two years before Kazan was called to name names. Others were called but refused. Zero Mostel, who plays a toady to Jack Palance (here billed as Walter Jack Palance), was blacklisted until 1968's "The Producers." Barbara Bel Geddes, who plays Widmark's wife, was blacklisted for almost a decade (yes, Miss Ellie of "Dallas" was a commie).
Many of Kazan's films seem like justifications for his decision to name names. "On the Waterfront" portrays union leaders as goons and shows the rationale of the informant. The disease in "Panic in the Streets" is a thinly veiled symbol for the spread of communism. And there is no doubt about who the all-knowing savior is: the prying central government. At first the local officials are wary of the zealous young doctor's dire warnings. But soon they are prostrating themselves in awe. "We're all in a community," Widmark orates just before the mayor fawningly lights his cigarette, "the same one." Sounds familiar. If only it were true. If only our leaders, our protectors, really acted as Kazan was claiming. Even great art can be false. Even a great artist can be wrong. These are, we must remember, only movies. Wayne Melton
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