Illegal Immigration and the Risk to Public Health: Panic in the Streets (1950)

Panic in the StreetsIn Elia Kazan’s Panic in the Streets (1950), Kochak (Lewis Charles), an illegal immigrant, is patient zero in a potential outbreak of pneumonic plague, a deadly disease that can kill a person “within four days.” An important issue in the film is illegal immigration and the risk to public health. Because illegal immigrants do not have the same access to health care as American citizens, if they are carrying a communicable disease, the disease can spread more quickly throughout the general population. The film also shows how American citizens without health insurance are equally at risk for contracting and spreading a communicable disease.

One difficulty in stopping the outbreak of a communicable disease is finding everyone who is already infected. The individual who is sick may not go to a doctor or a hospital, believing they will get better without treatment. After Kochak’s body is cremated, Dr. Clint Reed (Richard Widmark) and the police try to find Vince Poldi (Tommy Cook), the second person to be infected with the plague. The longer Poldi moves freely among the general population, the more likely the plague will spread. Whether American citizen or illegal immigrant, an individual who has a communicable disease needs to be treated and/or isolated.

In 2016, there were an estimated 11.3 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.1 Illegal immigrants face a greater risk of contracting and spreading a communicable disease because they don’t have the same access to health care as American citizens. In the U.S., under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), illegal immigrants “are either explicitly barred from accessing federal benefits or face significant restrictions on Medicaid and other programs for the poor.”2 Health care options are limited, and vary widely from state to state.3 Even when health care options are available, illegal immigrants may not access services because of “fear of deportation.”4

When access to health care is a privilege, and not a right, it is not only illegal immigrants who are at risk for carrying a communicable disease. In 1950, the year Panic in the Streets was released, the United States did not have Medicaid for low-income earners.5 It is almost certain that Poldi, who is poor and unemployed, doesn’t have health insurance. His only likely option is “charity care”6, which is why a nurse is “sent for” when he is sick in bed. Blackie (Jack Palance) later pays for a doctor to examine him, but there is nothing the doctor can do. Poldi needs to go to a hospital.

In Panic in the Streets an illegal immigrant is infected with pneumonic plague, and, tragically, two more people contract the disease and die. If there were a possible pandemic in the U.S., it is likely measures would be taken to inoculate illegal immigrants, if the disease were treatable. However, this does not change the reality that illegal immigrants are in a precarious position when it comes to accessing health care. Add to this the fact that over 28 million Americans do not have health insurance,7 and the entire population is at risk if there is an outbreak of a deadly disease.


  1. Jens Manuel Krogstad, Jeffrey S. Passel, and D’Vera Cohn, “5 facts about illegal immigration in the U.S.,” Pew Research Center, April 27, 2017,
  2. Keegan Hamilston, “Obamacare Bars Illegal Immigrants—and Sticks Hospitals With the Bill,” The Atlantic, December 18, 2013,
  3. Lisa Zamosky, “Healthcare options for undocumented immigrants,” Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2014,
  4. Ibid.
  5. Josh Hicks, “Ron Paul’s claims about life without Medicare and Medicaid,” Washington Post, February 1, 2012,
  6. Virgil Dickson, “Medicaid a lifeline for the poor and disabled,” Modern Healthcare, May 23, 2015,
  7. Dan Mangan, “The rate of uninsured Americans hits a record low as Obamacare’s future remains a question mark,” CNBC, February 14, 2017,

Three Reasons Why Women Have An Affair: The Letter (1940)

The Letter 1940In the opening scene of William Wyler’s The Letter (1940), Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis) murders the man she was having an affair with. The film reveals three reasons why women cheat on their husbands: boredom, loneliness, and an emotional connection with a male friend.

In research by Allen et. al, “boredom in the marriage”1 was cited as one reason why men and women were unfaithful to their spouses. One factor in Leslie’s unfaithfulness is boredom. Throughout the film, she is seen doing lacework. She finds the activity “soothing”, and took it up because she “had nothing else to do.” Although she has been married for 10 years, she has no children, and does not work outside the home. Even in her own home she has little to do. She says, “the boys take such good care of us.” Leslie has no major responsibilities as a housewife. An affair brought excitement to her life.

Another factor in Leslie’s unfaithfulness is loneliness. As the manager of a rubber plantation, her husband Robert (Herbert Marshall) works long hours, and is sometimes away on business for “a day or two.” Leslie accepts the reality of her husband’s absence, saying “I never mind being alone. A planter’s wife gets used to that.” However, the reason Leslie is “used to” being alone is that she has been cheating on Robert for many years. With an absent husband, she felt lonely, and her affair filled that emotional void.

While it is more common for men to have an affair due to physical attraction, women are more likely to be in love with the man they have an affair with. According to Spanier and Margolis, “Women report a significantly greater emotional involvement with their extramarital partners than men.”2 In their research, 51% of the men and 72% of the women reported that they “had some emotional commitment” or it was a “long-term love relationship.”3 Leslie confesses to Robert that she has been “in love for years.” Her extra-marital relationship began as a friendship seven years prior, but at some point she fell in love, and it became a sexual relationship.

A central theme in The Letter is that a married woman who is idle and has an absent husband is more likely to cheat. Robert loved Leslie, provided for her, and gave her everything that she needed, but she was bored, lonely, and had no goals or dreams of her own. With no children to care for and no job, she turned to another man to find meaning in her life. Then, when her lover suddenly abandoned her, she murdered him.


  1. Elizabeth S. Allen et al., “Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, and Contextual Factors in Engaging in and Responding to Extramarital Involvement.” Clinical Psychology: Science & Practice 12, no. 2 (June 2005): 109.
  2. Graham B. Spanier and Randie L. Margolis, “Marital Separation and Extramarital Sexual Behavior.” The Journal of Sex Research 19, no. 1 (February 1983): 23,
  3. Spanier and Margolis, “Marital Separation and Extramarital Sexual Behavior,” 36.

The Nature of Evil: Touch of Evil (1958)

touch-of-evilIf an act of evil is intentionally causing harm to an innocent person, then numerous characters in Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil (1958) are either guilty of evil or a victim of it. A central theme in the film is the progressive nature of evil: The more a person does what is evil, the less guilt they will feel, and after rationalizing their actions, they may commit even greater acts of evil.

Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles), the police captain, wants to punish criminals who are guilty of evil. When his instincts tell him that a suspect has committed a crime, he plants evidence in order to secure a conviction. Hank has violated the most basic principle of justice: innocent until proven guilty. He has not only broken the law, but if his instincts are wrong, he is guilty of evil himself. Innocent people may have been imprisoned or executed.

To conceal his crimes, Hank causes harm to an innocent woman. When Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston) discovers that Hank planted evidence in order to arrest Manolo Sanchez (Victor Millan) for the car bombing, he plans to publicly expose him. To destroy Mike’s credibility, Hank has Mike’s wife, Susan Vargas (Janet Leigh), kidnapped and drugged. Later, he commits an even greater act of evil: He murders Joe Grandee (Akim Tamiroff) and tries to frame Susan for it. By doing what is evil, Hank’s conscience has become dulled and blunted.

To avoid feelings of guilt, Hank rationalizes his actions: “a form of self-deception unconsciously used to make tolerable … feelings, behaviors, and motives that would otherwise be unacceptable.”1 When Pete Menzies (Joseph Calleia) accuses him of “faking evidence”, Hank says he was “aiding justice” because all of the people he framed were guilty. Instead of taking responsibility for his actions, he says, “I blame Vargas for everything.” Hank blames an innocent man.

The irony in Touch of Evil is that Hank, who wants to see criminals punished, becomes a criminal himself. In the climax of the film, he is shot dead before he can murder Mike. Such is the nature of evil: It deceives you, changes who you are, and then leads you into a path of destruction and ruin.


  1. Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. s.v. “rationalization,” accessed May 19, 2015,

The Ethics of Consequentialism: On Dangerous Ground (1951)

On-Dangerous-Ground-31In Nicholas Ray’s On Dangerous Ground (1951) Jim Wilson (Robert Ryan) is a police officer whose heart is hardened by the world of crime. Physically assaulting criminal suspects in order to obtain information, Jim believes that the ends justify the means.

The idea that the ends justify the means is derived from consequentialism: “the theory that … the moral value of an act should be judged by the value of its consequences.”1 The ethical dilemma posed by consequentialism is that harmful actions can sometimes have positive consequences. If the positive consequences outweigh the negative, then an individual may feel justified in actions that are illegal.

Although Jim’s mistreatment of criminals is against the law, there are positive consequences: gaining information that leads to the arrest of other criminals. When Bernie Tucker (Richard Irving) refuses to reveal the whereabouts of Mushy Castro and Gordy Miller—two men who murdered a police officer—Jim gives Tucker a severe beating that results in a “ruptured bladder.” Jim is a bad cop because of the “means” he uses. His brutality, however, does have a positive “end”: Castro and Miller are both arrested, and, as a result, future crimes may have been prevented.

To justify his brutality, Jim rationalizes his actions. Before beating Tucker, he says to him, “Why do you make me do it?” In reality, Jim is not being made to do anything. Tucker refuses to divulge the information because he is loyal to Castro and Miller and fears retaliation. Jim rationalizes his brutality because he wants justice.

When a person rationalizes doing something that is wrong, their heart can become hardened, and they no longer feel any guilt. A police officer for eleven years, Jim’s heart is hardened from dealing with “crooks, murderers, winos, [and] stoolies”, a class of people he refers to as “garbage.” However, when he leaves the city to investigate a murder, his heart begins to change. Walter Brent (Ward Bond), the grieving father of the murdered girl, wants revenge. In Brent, Jim sees a disturbing reflection of himself: an angry and violent man who wants to take the law into his own hands. Jim’s transformation continues after meeting Mary Malden (Ida Lupino). When he is with her, his anger diminishes, and the lion inside him becomes gentle and subdued.

Jim’s relationship with Mary shows how love has the power to soften a hardened heart. Before meeting her, he was only responsible for himself, not caring if he would suffer the consequences of his actions. But because of Mary, his future wife, it is likely that his behavior as a police officer will change. Responsible to care and provide for her, he will no longer risk breaking the law to further the cause of justice. Mary’s love for Jim restores what he lost in fighting crime: his conscience.


  1. Merriam Webster, s.v. “Consequentialism,” accessed April 27, 2015,