Tuesday, February 2, 2021

A movie to watch right now

Made for these times: The Killer That Stalked New York (dir. Earl McEvoy, 1950), a fictionalized semi-documentary treatment of the 1947 smallpox outbreak in New York City. A nightclub singer and diamond smuggler (Evelyn Keyes) returns to the city from Cuba, and as a T-man tries to track her down, she unwittingly spreads disease. She tips a porter; she comforts a child; her huband (Charles Korvin) talks to the milkman; and smallpox travels, first through a neighborhood, then through the city.

What most strikes me about the response to the threat of a pandemic here: it is swift and overwhelming. The word comes down: “Vaccinate the whole city.” If that takes hundreds of clinics? “Get them.” And doctors? “We’ll draft them.” Police stations, clinics, firehouses all become vaccination sites. Hospitals and their staffs are on call around the clock. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are told that they must come through. When needles run short, a sewing-machine company is pressed into action.

Then, as now, there are vaccine skeptics: a crowd scene shows a sign declaring VACCINE IS POISON, and a householder declares that “Nobody’s gonna put no germs into me or my family.” But social pressure is subtle and effective: our narrator (Reed Hadley) tells us that anyone who didn’t get the vaccine was “out of fashion, not in style.” A sore arm “told your neighbor you had good sense.” The slogan that carried the day in 1947, and again on screen: “Be safe. Be sure. Be vaccinated.” More than six million adults and children were vaccinated, five million of them in two weeks. A six-year-old Brooklyn boy, Anthony Fauci, was one vaccine recipient.

The Killer That Stalked New York will air on TCM’s Noir Alley, February 6 or 7 (depending on time zone). But you can watch right now a YouTube.

More on the 1947 smallpox outbreak
1947 New York City smallpox outbreak (Wikipedia) : An interview with Anthony Fauci (ABC News)

[One telling point: We’re told that Washington, London, and Paris are waiting to see what happens in New York. But there’s not a word about Cuba. In 1947, smallpox came to New York in a Mainer returning from Mexico City.]

comments: 2

Daughter Number Three said...

I have never heard of this film, and only a bit about the actual event (in some of the COVID coverage). Thanks for the tip!

Michael Leddy said...

You’re welcome, Pat. It’s amazing what’s to be found on YouTube.