Films about the immigrant experience in the United States often run the gamut from comedy (Coming to America, Moscow on the Hudson) to historical depictions (Hester Street, The New Land) to autobiographical dramas (Elia Kazan’s America, America) and even horror films such as Netflix’s 2021 thriller, No One Gets Out Alive. Still, one of my favorite movies about a foreigner’s adventures on these shores is The Face Behind the Mask (1941), which stars Peter Lorre as an Eastern European refugee looking to start a new life in New York City.
Think of the teeming hub of humanity that is New York City and then imagine a person with a highly contagious and deadly disease wandering among the masses, spreading death and panic. Based on an actual case in 1946 – a smallpox scare in which millions of New Yorkers received free vaccinations – The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) is a fictionalized dramatization of that incident. It stars Evelyn Keyes as Sheila Bennet, a modern day “Typhoid Mary” who contracts smallpox in Cuba while serving as a courier for Matt (Charles Korvin), her no-good musician boyfriend, in a stolen diamond smuggling scheme.
Smallpox vaccine is administered to citizens of New York City in 1947 during an outbreak of the disease