Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pickup on South Street (1953)

Pickup on South Street is no con job.

This early effort from American director Samuel Fuller (The Big Red One) offers great performances, including one nominated for an Oscar, fine camera work and, at times, intense violence that could make viewers flinch.


Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) is a pickpocket who's running out of chances. New York's finest have already nabbed him three times. If he's caught again, he goes to the big house for life.

He targets Candy (Jean Peters) on a crowded subway train. Skip's no dip when it comes time to steal other people's money, but he doesn't know two nearby federal agents are watching the young lady. Candy is a mule, transporting American military secrets to the Communists.


Check out the year this film was released. The Cold War between America and the Soviet Union was hot, hot, hot. Candy, and her handlers, want the microfilm that Skip pocketed back. Police offer the veteran crook a deal if he'll come clean with the sought-after secret. He's suspicious they'll be true to their word. McCoy's not worried about national security. He smells plenty of cash to be made by holding out for a rich payout before returning the film.

Widmark (Panic in the Streets (Fox Film Noir)) is impressive as the tough-talking thief who eagerly goes toe-to-toe with his police nemesis, Capt. Dan Tiger (Murvyn Vye). Thelma Ritter earned an Oscar nomination for her work as Moe, an informer who will sell information about pretty much anybody, including those she's close to.

Richard Kiley (Jurassic Park, Howard the Duck) also stands out as Joey, the nervous, under-the-gun Communist agent who starts to sweat when Candy tells him her purse was picked.

Victor Perry is a hoot in a brief appearance as Lightning Louie, another hustler ready to make a buck by doling out information others want.


Pickup on South Street gets solid treatment from The Criterion Collection. The 80-minute film's DVD extras include two segments, with a total running time of 30 minutes, of Fuller talking about his film noir effort. Fuller describes his love of subways and the affinity he has for pickpockets and other criminals. He wrote South Street's script too.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Victor Perry's film resume is slim. He appeared in just five titles released between 1952 and 1956.

Jean Peters married reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes and didn't appear on screen for nearly 20 years after A Man Called Peter came out in 1955.

Milburn Stone appeared as Doc during Gunsmoke's 20-year run on television.

Thelma Ritter received five Oscar nominations for best supporting actress between 1951 and 1963. She never won. Composer Leigh Harline won an Oscar for best score for Pinocchio.

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