The Covid-19 epidemic of 2020 will always be remembered as the medical crisis that abruptly changed daily life for everyone in the 21st century. It also sparked a renewed interest in movies dealing with deadly pandemics. Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011) starring Matt Damon and Outbreak (1995) with Dustin Hoffman were both box office successes during their initial releases but they suddenly began trending as highly popular titles again on streaming services everywhere. Terry Gilliam’s Oscar-nominated 12 Monkeys (1995) and The Andromeda Strain (1971), based on Michael Crichton’s novel, were also attracting first time and repeat viewers while other, equally worthy movies in the same genre have been forgotten or overlooked. One of these is 80,000 Suspects (1963), a compelling thriller from Val Guest, an often underrated British director.
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