Fresh from his turn as Marlon Brando’s understudy in “Streetcar Named Desire,” Lattimer Mines’ native Jack Palance made his film debut in the noir classic “Panic In The Streets” (1950, Fox, unrated, $25).
New to Blu-ray, the film reunited Palance with helmer Elia Kazan, who directed “Streetcar” and personally enlisted the actor for the role of the villain. The actor was still billed by his full name, Walter Jack Palance, for his turn as a tough guy who unknowingly becomes a carrier of pneumonic plague after chasing down and shooting a man infected with the disease.
As a manhunt ensues, Palance figures the cops are after him for murder, not realizing that government health officials like Clint Reed (Richard Widmark) want to stop him before he contaminates the entire city of New Orleans.
Sure, there are a few slow spots, but Kazan makes wonderful use of the Big Easy and its inhabitants and unleashes a final showdown between Palance and Widmark that will leave you on the edge of your seat.
Recalling the scene years later, Widmark said, “We rehearsed with a rubber gun, but unbeknownst to me, for the take, (Palance) switched to a real gun and bonged me on the head. I was out for about 20 minutes. I was mad as hell when I came to, but I wasn’t about to attack him. He’s the tough guy, strong as a gorilla.”
About four decades later, at 73, Palance would prove he was still “strong as a gorilla” by doing one-armed push-ups at the Oscars before collecting his Best Supporting Actor statue for “City Slickers.” They don’t make ‘em like Palance any more.