Pickup on South Street ()

directed by Samuel Fuller
featuring Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter, Murvyn Vye, Richard Kiley

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Samuel Fuller scarcely used Dwight Taylor's source material, a languid courtroom romance, in crafting this pugnacious potboiler. Pickup on South Street is strictly Fuller film noir -- lean and wicked straight to its core. Barely out of prison, loner and pickpocket Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) quietly helps himself to the contents of a woman's purse. His beautiful victim, Candy (Jean Peters), turns out to be an unwitting courier for the communist underground; McCoy's booty is actually microfilmed U.S. government secrets, ...

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Gissinglover

Oct 14, 2019

Noir And Espionage

The American director Samuel Fuller (1912 -- 1997) was known for cheesy low-budget B-flims, some of which have become highly regarded in the years following his death. Among his better-known movies is "Pickup on South Street", released in 1953. The title suggests a focus on a sexual encounter, but the term "pickup" refers to the pickpocketing of classified government information for delivery to USSR agents during the Cold War. The microfilmed secrets alluded to the Rosenbergs, who were executed that year for passing microfilmed information to the Soviet Union, and perhaps to Alger Hiss. Fuller also wrote the screenplay for the movie.

Set in New York City, the film stars Richard Widmark as petty thief Richard "Skip" McCoy, a three time loser, and Jean Peters as Candy, a prostitute and the former girlfriend of Joey (Richard Kiley), a communist spy. Candy is delivering the microfilm to Joey's bosses, thinking that it consists of confidential business information, when Skip steals it on a crowded New York City subway under the surveillance of the police. The incident begins the crowded, tangled plot to recover the information Thelma Ritter co-stars in the film as Moe, an aging, lonely snitch who sells information to the police and to most others willing to pay. Ritter's portrayal earned an Academy Award nomination.

With the focus on espionage, the interest of the film lies elsewhere, including its portrayal of early 1950's life with its rigid dress and its ever-present smoking. The movie is strong on noir atmosphere and on characterization. It offers a vision of city life with its crowded subways, fast pace, and lonely people. In addition to the subways, the movie offers views of the shabby New York waterfront, where Skip holes up in a shack, of Moe's barren apartment, and of third rate crooks dining by themselves as they accept cash for information. The people in the film are lonely and disengaged, from the police and Federal agents doing their jobs, to the grifting loser Skip, to the tawdry Candy searching for love, and to Moe, who seems to want no more from life than a proper burial. The dialogue is punchy and colloquial. The film is dark even with its half-hearted attempt to create a happy ending.

The cinematography, acting, and portrayal of urban loneliness made "Pickup on South Street" worth seeing. Admirers of film noir will enjoy the movie.

Robin Friedman

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