Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 16, No. 18. September 18, 1952
"Panique" proved to be a more enthralling "cinematic" experience! Here there's no dialogue padding, no extra words. What wo are given is a screen-play that is terse, tense; a story that relentlessly moves for ward with mounting excitement and vension. There's no stopping to chat about the philosophy of love or something else (I don't object to poetry in the cinema, but purely literary poetry shouldn't be used). In fact, what we get is a swift thriller of the American type with something deeper besides.
In a foreign quarter of a Paris suburb a crime has been committed: a Mademoiselle Noblet has been found lying dead on a waste piece of land. Money has been stolen. Police investigations are started and the people of the district—with the single exception of M. Hire, a rather eccentric bachelor who appears little perturbed—take feverish Interest in their progress. In fact the crowd's interest is so great that the real criminals start a people's inquiry with M. Hire as the only suspect. The criminals plant the Noblet handbag in his room; and the neighbours, exasperated because of the lack of excitement usually associated with a murder, decide to evict the detested Hire from his home. Bags are packed, thrown out and during the proceedings, the damaging clue is discovered. No more doubt exists. The police hurry to the scene and summon assistance in making the arrest: the real criminals lure M. Hire into the trap, and the blood-hungry crowd exults. In the midst of this mob rejoicing, M. Hire tries to escape from the menace unleashed against him, and a chase ensues culminating on the roof-tops. Hire loses his balance and finally dashes headlong to the ground below—his, sacrifice for the privilege of being different.
With such a plot the crowd plays an important part. The most important part, because this film is a revealing study of mass hysteria. Murder's in the air! Excitement increases; attendance at the nearby fair decreases. Who's the murderer? M. Hire's name is passed from the butcher to the housewife . . . well? Hilarious excitement Increases. The shops close for a half-holiday; the music stops at the fair, the merry-go-rounds slow down, the women wrestlers fight in the absence of an audience. Everyone's gone to see the downfall of the queer M. Hire. "It's not fair," says a showman, "that show's free!" and the crowd is determined to get all they can. They do. They sec an innocent man die. Not their fault, of course. He was so queer he should have been locked up years ago.
Such a theme calls for powerful direction and from Duvivler we get It (especially with the sound track). And such a plot calls for a strong actor in the part of M. Hire; Michel Simon is, quite frankly, magnificent. But such a film calls for an almost insensitive audience. It's too, too cruel! Not even the song introduced at the end cheered me up. "Let everyone in every land clasp hands so that they may know the beauty of Love." This film doesn't make me think that's ever possible.