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Other/Miscellaneous => Off-Topic Discussion => Topic started by: drinkanddestroy on August 07, 2012, 08:44:57 AM

Title: Pickup on South Street (1953)
Post by: drinkanddestroy on August 07, 2012, 08:44:57 AM

Pickup on South Street (1953)

PLOT SYNOPSIS: A subway pickpocket steals a woman's wallet, which contains a microfilm for Communist agents; now, both the Commies and the police are in a race to track him down.

Cast, Courtesy of imdb

Richard Widmark    ...   Skip McCoy
    Jean Peters    ...   Candy
    Thelma Ritter    ...   Moe Williams
    Murvyn Vye    ...   Captain Dan Tiger
    Richard Kiley    ...   Joey
    Willis Bouchey    ...   Zara (as Willis B. Bouchey)
    Milburn Stone    ...   Detective Winoki

Here are the 2 previous posts on this movie:


titoli: Pickup on South Street (1953)  I saw this a couple of times some decades ago (dubbed on tv) but this time (on a big screen and undubbed) I liked it even more. The pace is just about perfect (82' running time: why films nowadays must be 2h long?), the love story is not an encumbrance because it reflects on the plot development, the actors give great performances (W., Peters and Ritter) with some great dialogues. Minor complaints about Richard Kiley: he's good but something is missing in his performance. The score is remarkable. 8\10


cigar joe: I like it a lot also, its a bit of a puzzle to me why Fuller never quite reaches this caliber of Film Noir again, I'm leaning towards the demise of the whole studio apparatus and the reliance on package deals that put various creative elements together that obviously don't match up to what was done before. The caliber of acting talent in Fuller's later noirs doesn't quite match this and the Bamboo Curtain.

The TV market and the use of Color probably also influenced the decline of the stylistic dark noir's.

Title: Re: Pickup on South Street (1953)
Post by: drinkanddestroy on August 07, 2012, 09:01:23 AM
I give this movie an 8/10

I've liked Jean Peters since seeing her in Niagara (made the same year), Widmark is always awesome, and Thelma Ritter has one of the most touching roles you'll ever see, for an immoral character.
 She plays an aging stoolie, used by cops and crooks alike, whose greatest fear is to be dumped in the public cemetery after she dies; she is trying to save enough money for a nice funeral and cemetery plot. It sounds corny, but she and director Sam Fuller really make it work.

I did not like the Peters for falling for Widmark shit. It was probably inevitable that that happened, but my real problem is that it happens immediately. He's stolen her wallet, and then she sneaks into his place to snoop around, he knocks her out, and then she falls for him like mad? Come on. If that was going to happen, it can't happen so fast.

I got the Criterion dvd from Netflix, which means I was guaranteed of two things: a beautiful-looking movie, but a scratched disc. Really bad scratches  toward the end, I was able to forward over them with difficulty; this must be the tenth scratched disc those bastards at Netflix have sent me   >:(

I'm in middle of watching the bonus features on the dvd. The first bonus feature is called "Sam Fuller on Pickup on South Street) it is a SPECTACULAR 19-minute piece, put together by Richard Schickel, of Fuller talking about this movie. If you have this disc, you MUST watch this piece  O0  Fuller recounts, among other things, his discussions about the movie with Darryl Zanuck and J. Edgar Hoover, and how the characters were influenced by his experiences dealing with similar people.
Title: Re: Pickup on South Street (1953)
Post by: cigar joe on April 23, 2013, 05:18:35 PM
Another title that improves more and more with repeated viewings.


The cinematography of Joseph MacDonald (Niagara, Call Northside 777, Panic in the Streets, My Darling Clementine,  Viva Zapata!, Yellow Sky,  The Street with No Name, The Dark Corner) combines the great 20th Century Fox studio set design seamlessly with stock NYC location footage to depict a very believe-able 3 layered Manhattan. From vaulting suspension bridges overhead, against a backdrop of Brooklyn waterfront warehouses across to a lower East Side, East River, pier-scape, with a catwalk to a crumbling bait shack, butted up to the border of Chinatown with its grifters, flophouses, cigarette machines, B-girls, and tattoo parlors perched above the labyrinthine passages of the subways with their human drain ways from the surface

Peters approaching Moe's "above the tattoo parlor and across from the top of the stairs"

Widmark spotting a tail

Interior of swaying rush hour subway car in a neat sequence that introduces Peters, Boushey, Widmark and the plot:

After a station stop where various riders both exit and enter the car as the train starts and sways we watch as patches of Widmark, a hat brim, a corer of his eye, come into view as he jostles his way through the car of commuters...

notice the "Big Red One"

until he stands opposite floozie "I've "kissed" a lot of guys" Peters

All of the major actors are great in their roles. Ritter in probably her best performance as Moe, she is sly, shrewd, and funny in her scenes with G Man Bouchey and cop Vye, woman to woman matter of fact with Peters, motherly with Widmark, fearless with Kiley. Fuller did an outstanding job on the screenplay and was spot on in the dialogs.

Ritter with Bouchey, rt. and Vye, lt. at precinct headquarters, selling information and ties.

Other highlights, watch for Peters dickering with Vic Perry (Lightning Louie) in a Chinese restaurant ( Perry was a real pick-pocket and was a technical advisor on that aspect of the movie.), and the brutal  fight Peters has with Kiley.

Widmark is most excellet in the culmination of all his three time looser wise ass roles, and there is real chemistry in the on screen relationship between Widmark and Peters that sparks once they quit playing each other while jockeying for the microfilm . Some question the transition to romance, but it's meant to be a little off the wall. Moe points out how Skip is some kind of chick magnate. Moe she cant figure how women seem to fall for him, I'd say it is probably the most successful depiction of a relationship in a noir, and Fuller gives it plenty of time to stew and marinate. If it survives past the end credits is anybody's guess, but the deck is stacked against them. Peters is a real cutie in this, its a shame she cut her career way too short.

Peters taking a soak while sucking a tar bar.

Great score by Leigh Harline, Another 10/10 for me. The demise of the studio system really is apparent in Fullers later noirs
From IMDb:

Samuel Fuller's richest, most accomplished film noir, 7 January 2002

Author: bmacv from Western New York

Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street is anomalous: A "Red Scare" movie devoid of hysteria, in which the Communist threat is nothing more than the McGuffin that ignites the plot. Pickpocket Richard Widmark relieves loose woman Jean Peters of her wallet containing a strip of microfilm; unbeknownst to either of them, it harbors secrets vital to the Cold War. Peters, as it happens, was under surveillance by FBI agents who are as nonplussed by the theft as the man who's running her, cowardly comsymp Richard Kiley. In trying to retrieve the precious film, both sides enlist the help of Thelma Ritter, a streetwise old jane who's always on the earie and willing to sell what she hears.

Fuller draws from an opulent palette of tempos and tonalities in telling the story, which becomes a race against the clock of escalating brutality. From the subways to the waterfront, his midsummer Manhattan takes on a sweaty sheen that's almost pungent. The love scenes between Peters and Widmark become an unstable mixture of the tumultuous and the tender, and they're scored to "Again," a song introduced by Ida Lupino in Road House, also starring Widmark. The pace slackens for Ritter's beautifully written and played death scene -- among the most poignant vignettes in all noir, and a kind of mirage-oasis in a film parched of sentimentality. This is writer/director Fuller's only work in the strictest confines of the noir cycle; his later explorations of American pathology (The Crimson Kimono, The Naked Kiss, Underworld U.S.A.) never resulted in a synthesis as satisfying as Pickup on South Street.

by freudified_n_funkified (Sun May 6 2007 23:22:11)   

Here's the deal with the Skip/Candy romance. From the moment she's in his shack, it's not the romance people seem to perceive it as. It's not like they're immediately in love because they're making out. They're both playing each other -- Candy to get her purse back, Skip to figure out what it's worth. Fuller himself describes it as a "mercenary kiss" and goes on to say:

"Skip quickly figures out he can get a bundle for this precious microfilm, setting himself up for the rest of his life. And he isn't going to let Candy botch up that deal. No woman is worth that. He wants nothing to do with women. Home? Family? Love? Useless middle class pipe dreams to Skip. Candy irritates the hell out of him, interfering with his work. Everything changes when Candy gets beaten up trying to save Skip's life. Why would anyone risk her neck for him? It makes no sense in Skip's primitive world, where sacrifice is laughable. Nevertheless, the seeds of love have been planted."

That's what does it for Skip. Candy, on the other hand, clearly isn't the sharpest tack and has already proved her bad taste in men. So why is it a major flaw of the movie to have them legitimately hook up at the end? They ride off into the sunset, but there's no promise as to how far they get. The upbeat little coda does ring kind of falsely optimistic, and the chances of either one of them turning their lives around and living happily ever after are completely zilch. It works on a more subversive level because if we really know these characters, we know their sunny optimism is just another impossible pipe dream waiting to crumble out from under them. Either of them or both of them will wind up as gutted and destitute as Moe, or dead or locked up before they get a chance. Fuller allows them their victory, but of all filmmakers Fuller knows that most victories, personal or grander, are short lived.

That's what I take from PICKUP anyway - one of the sharpest, most exuberant and entertaining of film noirs and one of Fuller's crowning accomplishments. In most regards I think that Fuller, who is definitely an acquired taste, towers over contemporaries like John Huston, whose best work was mere adolescent male adventure fantasy. And while Fuller's creative sensibilities seem to be just that, his heart and his insight gave genuine weight to even his most didactic or ham fisted yarns. That and they're just so much more fun to watch.
Title: Re: Pickup on South Street (1953)
Post by: cigar joe on April 24, 2013, 08:42:01 AM
Just in time for some back drop info: (

And Lightnig Louie (Vic Perry),5994802 (,5994802)
Title: Re: Pickup on South Street (1953)
Post by: Jessica Rabbit on July 19, 2017, 01:12:24 PM
"I wanted to take a poke at the idiocy of the cold war climate of the fifties. Sure, there were communists who believed fervently in Marx and Lenin. But there were also crumbs like Joey who'd go to work for any 'ism' if there was a payoff. People living on the edge of society don't give a damn about politics. I wanted my film to be told through the eyes of the powerless. Cold war paranoia? Hell, these crooks were more interested in just getting by.”
Sam Fuller on Pickup on South Street, from his memoir A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking

Pickup on South Street is an 80-minute wonder of economical, fast-paced storytelling directed by cult filmmaker Sam Fuller. Charles Taylor of the Village Voice called the move “the finest distillation of Fuller’s tabloid sensibility”. True. Fuller had an instinctive feel for sensationalism and pulpiness. Rough scenarios are mixed with emotion, but it is never sudsy sentimentality with violins in the background. Fuller expresses sentiment without being sentimental.
Fuller wanted “guts and realism” in his pictures and his typical hard-boiled style practically predestined him to be dismissed as a B director so often. His style is stripped-to-the-bones. Much of the dialogue is right out of a dime novel.
War movies, noir thrillers and westerns were his playground and he liked to combine social commentary with brutal directness. He wasted no time with subtlety. Fuller sympathized with outsiders. His style was hard-hitting, lean, mean, raw and cynical. Fuller didn't go in for sappy backstories. When Candy asks Skip how he became what he is, another director may have concocted a tale to make the angels weep. Not so Fuller. “Don’t ask stupid questions” is all the answer we get.
A crime reporter for a tabloid newspaper who served in WW2, he’d seen a lot before he went to Hollywood and put his experiences on film. Pickup is gritty, grimy and occasionally nasty.

Fuller was an admirer of the Italian Neo-Realists who favored on-location shooting, but Pickup - despite its seeming authenticity and realism - was filmed almost entirely on a sound stage. Skip’s shack, the overcrowded subway that makes the audience feel the sweltering heat inside, the steam rising from the sidewalks, the seedy rooms…all Hollywood mixed with a few location shots for that true NY feeling. A NY picture shot in LA that nevertheless perfectly captures the rawness and nature of the city. Art director Lyle Wheeler was the sound stage magician. Together with cinematographer Joe MacDonald on the Fox backlot they re-created a “realism” all of its own, even if it isn’t real. We get a palpable feel for the underbelly of NYC without setting a foot into it.

Released at the height of the Red Scare, J Edgar Hoover objected to the unsympathetic treatment of the FBI and Widmark’s contempt for flag-waving, but Zanuck refused to give in. The PCA of course wanted numerous script revisions. Some violence had to be removed, but the picture is still one of the most brutal of this era, especially Candy’s ugly beating which looks shockingly real and was filmed without stunt doubles. Nobody’s pulling their pulpy punches here.

With just a few brushstrokes Fuller paints concise characterizations of kooky characters. Wonderful little touches like the trademark techniques of New York pickpockets and the way a crook named Lightning Louie snaps up his bribe money.

The opening scene is brilliantly staged, without dialogue. It starts in the subway where the pickpocket moves in beside a girl. The scene is intensely erotically charged. At first it feels like two people on a very intimate rendezvous. Skip is going through Candy’s purse as if caressing her. It’s strangely sexual until the viewer notices that the pickpocket is only after the girl's money.

Richard Widmark plays “three-time loser” and grifter Skip McCoy, a pickpocket who finds himself embroiled in Cold War espionage when he inadvertently lifts some microfilm carrying classified government information from the purse of Candy (Jean Peters), unwitting Communist courier and former girlfriend of Red spy Joey (Richard Kiley). Joey wants it back. With the help of stoolie Moe (Thelma Ritter) Candy sets to work. Skip has the film, the Feds want it, the Reds want it and Skip sees his chance for a big pay day.

Many viewers bemoaned the Commie angle, but apparently many of them didn’t look below the surface. Fuller tells his story without the requisite hysteria of other reds-under-the-bed propaganda pictures. Those took themselves seriously. They had a message. In Pickup Communism is no more than the nominal subject. The stolen microfilm is nothing but a MacGuffin, a pretext to move the plot along.
Fuller said “My yarn is a noir thriller about marginal people, nothing more, nothing less.” Anti-communism is not the film’s mission, Fuller doesn’t give us ideological lectures. When Moe says; “What do I know about commies? Nothing… but I know I don’t like ’em“, this clearly plays like a satire. Not that J Edgar would have noticed. He took things at face value. But as Fuller refused to explain himself, some critics called the film anti-Communist, some anti-American, depending on their own politics.
Pickup’s rhetoric may be “right-wing”, but clearly the heart of the film is anything but. It’s firmly on the side of life’s losers. Fuller paints petty criminals, hustlers, grifters and hookers with real sympathy.
None of Fuller’s heroes are squeaky-clean. He liked them ambiguous. Having friends in low places was no indication of a person’s moral worth, or lack thereof. His characters are not only survivors, they are survivalists, who’ve been knocked about a lot but somehow made it out alive. They do what they must to get by. Self-interest is a powerful motivator. Amoral yet noble and above all pragmatic, but with a lot of integrity in the end. There’s more to them than just crime. Their relationships are complex, just like their morality. They’re the grunts trying to survive while political loonies play their little power games.

Candy is as classy as her name implies. She’s a tart who’s “kissed a lot of guys”, but she has a heart of gold, naturally. Her dresses are so tight we wonder how she peels them off at night. Fuller had turned down several actresses as too glamorous for the role including Ava Gardner and Monroe, before settling on Peters. It was a wise choice. She has a raw and earthy sexiness in this movie, mixed with toughness and vulnerability in equal measures. In her own words, playing the siren didn’t come naturally to her and she credited Marilyn Monroe with showing her the ropes.
When Candy and Skip first meet, he knocks her out cold and then pours beer over her to wake her up. It’s meet cute, Noir style. I’m sure Mike Hammer took note. Skip almost dislocates her jaw and we still like the guy! He caresses it too right afterwards, and there I was waiting for the celluloid to burst into flames. Their dialogue sizzles, they sizzle. It’s sensuous and steamy. Some reviewers apparently mistook this for love at first sight.
Both are mercenaries, both are playing each other and both want something from each other. And in the beginning it’s not sex, that’s just a means to an end. Candy wants her microfilm back, Skip wants to know what’s so important about it. Acting true to type, she tries to use sex to get her way. She knows the routine, she didn’t get all those lovely dresses by flashing her suitors nothing but a coy little smile.
But in a complete departure from the way this set-up usually plays out, Skip does the same. He isn’t a sucker. It’s not love that’s going through his mind, it’s money. Later she tries it a second time and fails again.

Widmark is great as Skip. Audacious and arrogant, combining roguish charm with a capacity for easy violence, he exudes menace and shiftiness. He lives in a dilapidated bait-and-tackle shop at the Brooklyn waterfront where he keeps his beer cold in the River. It’s a classy set-up.
He’s a lowlife who’s always on the lookout for a quick buck. He’s a crook because the world is full of suckers, so why not take advantage of them? 25G for the microfilm sounds just right to him. With appeals to his patriotism the cops want him to give it up, but those appeals fall on deaf ears. “Are you waving the flag at ME?” is his incredulous answer to it. The appeals are noble platitudes spouted by flatfoots without humor. Politics and patriotism are abstractions that mean nothing to him. Skip wouldn’t let anything as small as politics come between him and his big score. To him nobody’s money stinks, not even a reds. He says to Candy: “So you're a Red, who cares? Your money's as good as anybody else’s.” J Edgar didn’t like it and called Fuller in for a little talk. Fuller didn’t play.
Many viewers wondered how Candy could fall for Skip so fast. Moe has the best answer to it, he gets under people’s skin. He’s an homme fatale. And Candy isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.
After Moe gets killed and Candy beaten up, Skip's grubby sense of honor is finally awakened. It’s not politics that makes him change his ways, it’s loyalty and love.
In the end it’s happiness for Skip and Candy -or the Noir equivalent of it - but damn it’s twisted. One second they slug each other, the next they lock lips. It’s some kinky stuff there. In Noirland the road to a happy ending is rough and tumble. Despite that their relationship is one of the most affecting I’ve seen in Noir. To me it worked just fine.
Title: Re: Pickup on South Street (1953)
Post by: Jessica Rabbit on July 19, 2017, 01:13:01 PM

Special mention has to go to Thelma Ritter as stoolie Moe, a spot-on performance that conveys a world of quiet despair with just a few gestures. She sell her services to the highest bidder so she can buy herself a top of the line funeral with all the trimmings and not end up as another nameless corpse in Potter’s Field. “I have to go on making a livin’ so I can die,” is one of the saddest, most hopeless and nihilistic declarations ever. She’s given up on living, she just works to die.
Moe is at the bottom of the food chain. Though she occasionally rats her friends out to the cops, after all everybody has to make a living somehow, she’s fond of them. She warns them about the sell-outs. Skip doesn’t hold it against her. “She’s gotta eat,” he explains. He doesn’t pass judgment. She’s a mother figure to the younger crowd. She’s cunning, noble, feisty, pathetic and endearing. Not an easy feat to convey for any actor. In general we want stoolies to get their well-deserved comeuppance, but not here. We can’t help but love Moe. She has dignity and emotional depth.
She has her own unwritten code of ethics too, she doesn’t sell out to commies. She dies to protect her friends. Honor-among-thieves.
Though Moe trades constant wise-cracks with everybody, there’s always something melancholy about her. When she says to Joey - who’s come to kill her - she’s tired, we know it’s not just physical. Her weariness goes deeper. She’s tired of life, it has beaten her down. All she has to show for at the end of her life is a shabby tenement. She accepts her death in a fatalistic fashion. Her death is the most emotionally gut-wrenching in the movie. She dies with a dignity that transcends her life as a crook. When Moe’s corpse is on its way to Potter’s Field, it’s Skip who makes sure she gets her fancy funeral, paying for it with his own hard-stolen money.

I didn’t mind Skip and Candy going off together in the end. It’s another Noir about redemption. Only the very last scene rings false, it's too cheery, but as freudified says, I doubt either of them will change their stripes forever. The happy ending is not the end.

An absolute classic that’s still as fresh as ever.
Title: Re: Pickup on South Street (1953)
Post by: cigar joe on July 19, 2017, 01:44:25 PM
Nice review, I Just fixed all the links to the pics in the blog the other day coincidentally too,  O0

so I'll update them here also.
Title: Re: Pickup on South Street (1953)
Post by: Jessica Rabbit on July 19, 2017, 01:48:03 PM
I was wondering where they were.
Unfortunately your link to the backdrop info has been taken down.
Title: Re: Pickup on South Street (1953)
Post by: cigar joe on July 19, 2017, 01:51:18 PM
fixed  O0
Title: Re: Pickup on South Street (1953)
Post by: cigar joe on July 19, 2017, 01:53:30 PM
I was wondering where they were.
Unfortunately your link to the backdrop info has been taken down.

At least Lightnin' Louie (Vic Perry) is still up.
Title: Re: Pickup on South Street (1953)
Post by: Jessica Rabbit on July 19, 2017, 01:59:02 PM
Thanks for fixing the screenshots.