There are many things about "Panic" that could have been done equally well in an American production. The basic excellence of this French film lies not in inspiration, not in outstanding acting, not in great tragedy-all things which are occasionally present in Hollywood pictures-but in the realization that while it is pleasant to believe that little people are good and noble, they are usually just little.
"Panic" is a tale of an unlucky man, who was turned from his one real joy-his love for his wife-when she decided that she decided that she preferred the company of her husband's only friend. This sort of thing is enough to turn any man into at least a mild persimist; here it has made the gentleman in question give up his home and law practice and turn to recording with his camera all the grisly things he can find. At this point, the movie opens, with the arrival of a young woman just out of prison (Viviane Romance) who makes such an impression on the depressed M. Heer that he gives up his macabre photographic exploits to fall in love again. The unfortunate thing is that the girl has come home to live with the small-time crook for whom she took a jail sentence.
The gradual and carefully shaded realignment of audience sympathies is the main moving force of the film. Opening impressions of the hero leave you with a generally uneasy feeling about him, while you might think that the crook and his girl are well along on the way to honesty. Consistently high-level supporting actors, superb camera work, and a good script are instrumental in the slow change. Where the film shows its honesty is in the final acceptance by the girl of the necessary double-crossing of her middle-aged admirer to throw police off the trail of her criminal lover.
Mob scenes, unpleasant characters, and woeful, middle-aged men are plentiful in American cinema. There is some excellent photography on our screen; there is a little good writing which penetrates the West Coast hierarchy of editorial stupidity. Where "Panic" is exciting is in the mixture of completely repulsive characters with clever situation. You cannot like any of the people of "Panic"; yet the whole production is not only a first-rate thriller but a carefully balanced and superbly executed piece.