Friday 10 November 2023

Pickup On South Street (1953)

Every time I see a Samuel Fuller movie I am reminded of the fact that I want to see ALL the Samuel Fuller movies. Having started my journey through his work with two titles that are arguably his most well-known, I keep forgetting how many more I have to experience. I’ve yet to find a bad one, and I encourage everyone to explore his brilliant filmography.

Pickup On South Street is the tale of a pickpocket (Skip McCoy, played by Richard Widmark) who inadvertently dips the wrong purse. Little does he realise that he has ended up with some film that was being handed over to communist villains by a blissfully ignorant young woman (Candy, played by Jean Peters). The police want to get their hands on the film before it can be passed on, and they enlist the help of a wise informant named Moe Williams (Thelma Ritter). While Skip is used to staying one step ahead of the police, he has rarely been in such demand. Candy wants to negotiate with him, while others start planning a less pleasant way to retrieve the valuable stolen item.

Zipping along for the entire 80-minute runtime, and anchored by two fantastic lead performances, this is arguably one of the very best film noirs from writer-director Fuller. And if you remember all of the praise I JUST wrote at the start of this review (and how could you forget it already, unless you are a goldfish, and if you are a goldfish . . . how the hell are you even reading this review?) then you will know that it must be working hard to reach a very high bar. It’s a fun film, thanks to the characters and the dialogue, but it also builds the tension on the way to a brilliant and satisfying third act.

Widmark is a great actor, and was used especially well in a number of film noirs, so I expected to enjoy his portrayal of Skip. What I didn’t expect was for it to easily rank up there as one of his best ever performances. Mixing in just the right amounts of cheek, charm, selfishness, and a wobbly moral compass needle, Skip is one of the great anti-heroes, with strong emphasis on the “anti” part. Although it is hard to equal him, Peter acquits herself very well in the role of Candy, a woman who shows some real mettle when she discovers that she has been used as a mule for something she wouldn’t willingly want any part of. Very easy to like, and working well with Widmark, Peters does well to keep the film from being stolen away completely by her leading man. Ritter is a lot of fun in her role, and she uses her few scenes to cast a long shadow over the whole film, and there are various “cops and robbers” played by the likes of Murvyn Vye, Milburn Stone, Willis Bouchey, and Richard Kiley, who all do well enough in their roles.

Fuller yet again manages to mix the drama and thrills with little details that lend an authenticity to everything, as was his greatest strength, but the fluctuating relationship between Skip and Candy is the strong heart of the movie. Everyone involved does very good work, whether in front of the camera or behind it, and the end result is guaranteed entertainment for fans of film noir.


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