The Killer that Stalked New York

I saw one of my all-time favorite film noir movies recently from 1950 – The Killer that Stalked New York.  It is billed as a Noir/Docudrama.  It only gets 33% on Rotten Tomatoes, but what do they know 😊!?

It is an entertaining combo of a mystery involving a jewel thief and a public health topic, SMALLPOX

Sheila and her husband, a total cad, are jewel thieves. She goes to Cuba and mails some rare diamonds to the US.  She also manages to pick up smallpox while she is in Cuba.  Clearly, she wasn’t vaccinated or her vaccine didn’t take.

Sheila returns to New York City and manages to spread smallpox along the way through her respiratory secretions.  She even drinks from a public water fountain! When she becomes ill, she finds her way to a NYC public health clinic.  She isn’t immediately diagnosed and quickly flees. 

But the switch is quickly tripped and public health is on it!  The health commissioner gets the Mayor to spring for big bucks and get vaccinated on TV.  A fleet of contact tracers are launched, along with vaccination clinics in neighborhoods.  There are anti-vaxxers in the mix and some think the Mayor is just out for publicity.  Clearly there are some interesting parallels to our current COVID 19 pandemic!

Apparently, the movie is based on a real event in NYC in 1947.  A rug merchant from Maine boarded a bus in Mexico City for their return to New York.  He apparently contracted smallpox in Mexico and it was fatal, as it is 30% of the time.  Here is great article from the NY Times about the mass vaccination campaign that was mounted in response. Over 6 million people were vaccinated in less than a month largely because people trusted government, science, and the media.  We are living in different times!

But the heroes of the movie are a public health doctor and his staff, the health commissioner, and the US Public Health Service (USPHS).  The picture on today’s blog is USPHS medicine bottle circa 1912. My husband found it in a dump in Helena, MT.

The end movie credits even thank ‘the men and women of the Department of Public Health’.  That acknowledgement is a first to my knowledge and, unfortunately, probably an only!

Double mask and have a good weekend.  We are expecting snow.

See you on Monday, Allene


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