Friday, October 26, 2007

Tonight's Movie: Pickup on South Street (1953)

PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET is an absolutely terrific film noir. Charismatic Richard Widmark plays antihero Skip McCoy, a pickpocket who inadvertently "lifts" a hot piece of microfilm wanted by Communist agents. Soon everyone is after him -- the police, the Communists, and the girl who'd been carrying the film in her purse.

This is a crackling good, fast-paced story with unusual characters. Not many movies have the audience rooting for a pickpocket, a stool pigeon (Thelma Ritter), and a girl of questionable repute (Jean Peters). The interplay between the three leads is wonderfully unique, with some great dialogue, such as Ritter's crack to Widmark, chiding him when she thinks he's involved with the Communists: "I knew you since you was a little kid. You was always a regular kind of crook. I never figured you for a louse." Honor among thieves doesn't leave room for treason, it seems. Ritter was nominated for the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for this film.

Widmark and Peters' love-hate relationship -- when they first meet he knocks her out, then wakes her up by pouring beer on her! -- is fascinating to watch develop. Their strange pairing is constructed in a very short amount of time, but it makes perfect sense in the context of the story.

The three leads are backed by Murvyn Vye as Captain Tiger, Skip's not-so-friendly nemesis on the police force, and the wonderful Richard Kiley as the man who was supposed to hand the film over to the Communists.

PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET was shot in black and white and runs 80-81 minutes. It was written and directed by Samuel Fuller. According to Eddie Muller's great book DARK CITY, the movie was filmed in a mere 10 days.

The film has been released on DVD as part of the Criterion Collection. DVD Savant gives the set a rave review. If only there were a commentary track...maybe sometime Fox will do a reissue and include one.

The movie is also available on VHS. I watched a video copy and the print was excellent.

PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET is a gritty, fascinating, and very different movie which I highly recommend.

2021 Update: This film will be released on Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection in June 2021, along with a reissue of the film on DVD.  New extras will be combined with extras from the previous DVD.


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