Ah, the thrill of a simple mystery during difficult times; that is what Panic on the Air provided the movie-goer in the spring of 1936, an escape from the financial woes which were affecting nearly everyone in some way. And here, in Panic on the Air was the way to ease the burden of a time of depression, exchanging the doldrums, the pressure and strife associated with the struggle to survive for thrills, chills, laughter and lightness. Maybe today this bit of mystery does not taste the same as it did then, but it proved an oasis from the drying winds of change, for the average Joe and Jane, in these several April days in 1936. All in all, Panic on the Air was well received by the critics (I have included two of these reviews) and even the lofty New York Times had something nice to say about Panic… “‘Panic on the Air’ is the sort of vehicle that suits Lew Ayres, and, with Benny Baker’s plaintiveness and Florence Rice looking nice and natural, the film is somewhat entertaining.” The box-office report for Panic was in the poor to fair category, this according to Harrison’s Report, July 18, 1936.
Many films of that era compared to today’s fare can be likened to donuts: the donut of April 1936 was most likely a cake treat, dunk-able into a steaming Cup-o-Jo, while the donut confection of 2014 is strafed with filling, icing, savories and any other number of preparations to entertain the modern palate. ‘You’ may have found a chocolate iced, a powered sugar coated, a granulated sugar coated, a coconut coated, a glazed and plain, but yesteryear’s donuts, while tasty, would not appeal to a majority of the sophisticated appetites of this day. Likewise the films of that Golden-Age, are often overlooked, because of a lack of understanding of the times, trying to force the values, the sensibilities of 1936 into the streaming, texting, chatting, CGI, digitized film on a disc world in which we now live. It is quite unfair to critique Panic on the Air by this year’s standards; we must in some sense, be able to look at the movies (or architecture, literature, photography…) of ‘then’ with a discerning eye, able to put aside for a while what we know now, and remember what was known then, so that we may come to an understanding of the film’s worth.
Panic on the Air was directed by D. Ross Lederman (an on-time, often under-budget, B-movie favorite of producers), Harold Shumate (near a hundred screenplays, scenarios and stories) wrote the screenplay based on a story by Theodore S. Tinsley, with the cinematography by Benjamin H. Kline (hundreds of B credits to his name). Panic starred, Lew Ayres (All Quiet on The Western Front, 1930, Johnny Belinda, 1948, Advise and Consent, 1962; and the Dr. Kildare series), Florence Rice (Double Wedding, 1937, At the Circus, 1939) and Benny Baker ( an unforgettable voice with seven decades in film) led the cast. You will have to search high and low to find this one on DVD, but, if you are persistent you may come across a copy; enjoy the Panic.
By C. S. Williams