I decided to get this on impulse buy having read some good reviews on the web. I have to say that I don't regret it in the least. It's a very good film noir, unusually fast paced both for its genre and time. Within the first few minutes you get addicted. A pickpocket (Richard Widmark) accidentally steals a microfilm from a handbag - only the woman was a corrier and was being followed by the police as they wanted to catch the communist receiver. Soon he has everyone after the film: the police, the communists and the femme fatale from who he had steal it from the first place. Richard Widmark (whom I don't like) and Thelma Ritter give wonderful performances. She is as usual the best thing and a complete scene stealer. She got an Oscar nomination for this but lost rather unfairly for Donna Reed. The DVD itself is a barebone release (there are some trailers for other releases, but not the film's) but the copy is very good.
When Candy (Jean Peters) has her handbag picked by hard boiled pick pocket Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) we are set off on a chase with relentless cop Dan Tiger (Vye) chasing McCoy for the micro film he unwittingly stole, and communist infiltrator Joey (Kylie) forcing Candy to get the film back from McCoy.
Then enter Moe (Thelma Ritter), an elderly police informer worried about getting enough money for a decent funeral, a part wonderfully acted right down to the last minute detail. Ritter got a well deserved Oscar nomination for supporting actress.
The tough hard boiled drama is lead brilliantly by Widmark as the smart alec pick pocket who takes no hostages, with just a hint of fear knowing he has three convictions and the next one means life, but acted with just the right touch of humanity. Jean Peters is also excellent as the flawed but innocent participant in a communist plot.
These are not nice people, but it is just possible to understand them and their predicaments.
Samuel Fuller is hardly one of America's great directors. I'm not sure he qualifies as one of Hollywood's great craftsmen. But he certainly ranks up there with the best of Hollywood's true professionals who were willing to march to their own music. During the time he worked for Hollywood studios, he knew how to take an assignment, shape the middling material handed to him and then turn it quickly and efficiently into something usually better than its parts...on time and on budget. Pickup on South Street is a case in point. On the surface it's one more of Hollywood's early Fifties' anti-Commie movies, complete with appeals to patriotism, a hard-boiled hero and a slimy (and copiously perspiring) bad guy. Fuller turns this bag of Hollywood clichés into a taut, exciting drama with any number of off-kilter twists. The hero, Skip McCoy, is a three-time loser, a petty crook with soft fingers who doesn't change his stripes until the very end. The girl in the caper, Candy, has a level of virtue that would be easy to step over if you're so inclined. One of the most appealing characters, Moe Williams, is a stoolie. And in an unusual approach to Hollywood's battle against Commies, the appeals to patriotism fall on deaf ears; the hero isn't motivated by anything so ennobling. He just wants payback for a personal reason, and winds up becoming...at least for now...a good guy.
Plus, all the actors were mostly assigned to Fuller by the studio. He had to make do. Richard Widmark by now had established his presence as an actor and star, but Jean Peters is a surprise. She gives a fine portrait of a woman sexy and dumb, and no better than her boy friends...or her clients...want her to be. And Richard Kiley, who later would become a two-time Tony award winning star on Broadway, is convincingly slippery and cowardly. It's hard to remember that he was the actor who inflicted on us, I mean introduced to us, "The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha,
More than anything else, this tale of a pickpocket who picks a purse in a subway car and finds himself with microfilmed secrets instead of cash, pursued by the Feds and the Commies, moves straight ahead with great economy. The whole enterprise, with a classic noir look, only takes 80 minutes to tell. The dialogue, with Fuller as screenwriter, has that party corny, partly pungent hard-boiled pulp fiction style. "That muffin you grifted...she's okay," one character says to Skip about Candy. Fuller moves us just fast enough from scene to scene to keep us hanging on what will come next. Then Fuller throws in the character of Moe Williams. All of a sudden the story ratchets up to a whole new level of interest, part comedy relief and part sad inevitability.
The thing I like best about the movie is how the opening exemplifies Fuller's talents and strengths. In 2 minutes and 15 seconds, starting right after the credits, Fuller is able to instantly power up the movie, to establish for us what the story is about, and to show us what kind of characters -- Skip and Candy -- we're going to be involved with. And he does this with so much enticing curiosity in that hot, packed subway car that we can just about feel Fuller setting the hook to catch us.
Says Glenn Erickson, in my opinion one of the best of movie critics, "In what should be an inconsequential story, Sam Fuller defines his peculiar view of Americanism from the bottom up: stiff-necked, aggressive self-interest that when fully expressed recognizes what's wrong and what's right and isn't afraid to fight for it. As always in his work, the individuals who fight the hardest for their country are the ones least likely to benefit from the effort." He's right, and it makes for a movie still vivid after 55 years.
The Criterion edition looks first-rate. There are several special features. The case also contains a 20-page booklet with a lengthy excerpt about making the movie from a book by Fuller. The enthusiastic comments by Martin Scorsese about Fuller, however, should be taken with a grain of salt. "I think that if you don't like the films of Samuel Fuller," says Scorsese, "then you just don't like cinema." Oh, come on.
on 29 March 2007
Tough uncompromising film from the arch practitioner of the style.Richard Widmark steals a purse which happens to contain secret microfilm little realising the chain of events that will result from his filching.Enter government agents and assorted others who will stop at nothing to get it back.
Essentially a bleak study of human nature where the most redeemable character turns out to a street informer stunningly played by the wonderful Thelma Ritter this is still terrific stuff.Powerhouse direction, a fast pace and superb location work make this a must see.
Skip McCoy is a three time loser pick pocket, unable to curb his instincts back on the street, he picks the purse of Candy on a subway train. What he doesn't realise is that Candy is carrying top secret microfilm, microfilm that is of high interest to many many organisations.
Director Samuel Fuller has crafted an exceptional drama set amongst the seedy underworld of New York City. Communist spies and shady government operatives all blend together to make Pickup On South Street a riveting viewing from first minute to the last. Based around a Dwight Taylor story called Blaze Of Glory, Fuller enthused this adaptation with heavy set political agenda, something that many at the time felt was over done, but to only focus on its anti communist leanings is doing it a big disservice.
Digging a little deeper and you find characters as intriguing as any that Fuller has directed, the main protagonist for one is the hero of the piece, a crook and a shallow human being, his heroics are not born out of love for his country, they are born out of his sheer stubborn streak. It's quite an achievement that Fuller has crafted one of the best anti heroes of the 50s, and i'm sure he was most grateful to the performance of Richard Widmark as McCoy, all grin and icy cold heart, his interplay with the wonderful Jean Peters as Candy is excellent, and is the films heart. However it is the Oscar nominated Thelma Ritter who takes the acting honours, her Moe is strong and as seedy as the surrounding characters, but there is a tired warmth to her that Ritter conveys majestically.
It's a B movie in texture but an A film in execution, Pickup On South Street is a real classy and entertaining film that is the best of its most intriguing director. 9/10
on 20 July 2011
I thought this black and white 'B' movie in the 'film noir' genre a right cracker, full of tense atmosphere and exquisite acting. If you are a fan of black and white 'cop and robber' movies, this is right up there with the very best in style, camera work, dialogue and intense gripping atmosphere.
Hesitate not - buy it. If you are disappointed, sadly you cannot be the full shilling.
on 26 February 2009
For the last few weeks I've been watching films from countries like Turkey and Vietnam with visceral stories of exploitation, humiliation, damaged love and the impossibility of happiness. And now suddenly here's Thelma Ritter in 1953: "I'm so tired, it would be a relief if you blew off my face." Samuel Fuller inhabits the same psychic space as my "third world" urban guerillas, but he has a technique which blows them out of the water, and films from Scorsese to "Fight Club" owe him a huge debt.
Everything in his (often B) movies is entirely his: written, produced and directed. He is the nearest Hollywood ever comes to a European-style "auteur". The price he pays is that he smuggles his take on the world past Hollywood; he'll deal in silly "commie" McGuffin, he'll tack on false happy endings, but at the heart of his movies, and "Pick-Up on South Street" in particular, is a vision where everyone is on the make, everyone will swear they love you while stealing your purse, police and crims inhabit the same dog-eat-dog world. "She got to make a living," explains Richard Widmark, justifying Mo/Ritter's work as a stool pigeon.
There are so many "Wow!" moments in this film, the sillinesses become irrelevant. The script is biting, especially in Widmark's relationship with the police chief: cocky pickpocket just released goading the man who wants to send him down for life. And then there is the marvellous Jean Peters as Candy, the prostitute whose purse is stolen at the start of the movie, which precipitates the action. She combines a curiously blurred face with a kind of suppressed hysteria, as if she could stab you or kiss you at any moment, for the most trivial of motives. I know of no other actress who can be so High and Low at the same time; you know she'll steal your wallet and you don't care. Her career was cut short by her marriage to Howard Hughes, not the least of his crimes against Art.
But best of all is the way that Fuller is a protagonist in his own story, through the way he uses his camera. No-one films a fight like he does; long single takes with a camera which certainly wasn't hand-held at the time but feels like it was. He uses huge close-ups, so potent they still resonate on DVD, as if he wants the camera to get inside the character's skull. His editing is razor sharp, almost subliminal. He is the most aggressive film-maker I know.
But all this abundant technique would be nothing if he didn't have something to say. What he has to say is what he learnt in WW2, where he earned abundant honours and got his hands seriously soiled liberating concentration camps. His was wasn't the glamorous war of schoolboy heroics, or John Ford's cosy pacific arena, but the down-and-dirty stuff where you blow your friend's brains out to save him suffering more. Life is tough as all get-out, everyone has a price, but somewhere someone may do something to create a moment of trust, and out of that may come redemption.
on 27 December 2011
Exactly as I remember it from previous viewings. This is a film with Widmark in an unusual and very interesting role as a charming but initially unprincipled small time criminal who falls in love and eventually, as usual, everything ends up alright.
I bought it because it is one of a number of films that I have purchased which I will enjoy watching again sometime in the future.
This film may appear a bit dated as it was made during the "Cold War" when USA was at the height of its paranoia with "Commies" and USSR. That aside it has a masterly performance by Richard Widmark with the excellent Thelma Ritter (nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actress). Widmark is a pickpocket who steals a wallet containing film which the "Reds" want as opposed to the FBI and the plot unfolds from that point. A great movie from the golden years of Hollywood.
on 3 February 2012
Strangely I have seen this film on two occasions over the past 20 years, but on this the third time, it has
made a rather enchanting impression. I guess it is classed as a "Film Noir" (Black Film)The central characters:
a Pick- Pocket and a passer of seceret Govt.information, would normally come in for some degree of dislike-even
hate. But this time round I found them likeable. Lovely performances from Richard Widmark and Jean Peters,cleverly
directed by Samuel Fuller; bringing the viewer some sympathy with people existing outside the law, occasionly inserting the beautiful melody from the song "Again",by Lional Newman.But the most moving scene came with Thelma
Ritter, facing Death from a nasty, tears well-up in her eyes before she is shot dead. Needless to say the bad guys get their cum-uppence, and all ends well. Getting back to the lovely song, in this case it could`nt happen to two more unlikely people.