Petty crook Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) has his eyes fixed on the big score, but when he picks the purse of unsuspecting Candy (Jean Peters) he finds a haul bigger than he could imagine: a strip of microfilm bearing con... more »fidential U.S. secrets. Tailed by both Feds and the unwitting courier's Communist puppeteers, Skip and Candy find themselves in a precarious gambit that pits greed against redemption, Right versus Red, and passion against self preservation. A dazzling cast, hardboiled repartee and director Samuel Fuller's signature raw energy combine to create a true film noir classic.« less
A beautifully restored version of a Samuel Fuller classic
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 09/05/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of the finest low budget crime films of the fifties, one that manages to get an extraordinary number of things right. After a dozen years of film noir and tough detective films, one would have imagined that most of the angles would have been tried and worked to exhaustion, but PICKUP ON NOON STREET managed to be amazingly fresh and original. It is also a multi-layered film. On one level, it is an espionage film, with federal authorities, with the help of local police in New York, on the trail of a group selling secrets to the Communists. Interestingly, the collaborators are not treated as political individuals, but utterly unprincipled capitalists. As Joey, Richard Kiley's character, puts it early in the film to his former girlfriend Candy, "How many times do I have to tell you we're not criminals. This is big business."
The film features a first rate cast. Except possibly for his screen debut in KISS OF DEATH, Richard Widmark was never better than he was in this film as three-time loser pickpocket Skip McCoy. The ultimate anti-hero, McCoy's motives are complex and opaque, even at the end. Jean Peters, later Mrs. Howard Hughes (to whom she was married from 1957 to 1971), is fetching as Candy, a shady dame with a past but with the proverbial heart of gold. Richard Kiley is suitably slimy as Joey, the seller of secrets to the Communists. Kiley would later (after his voice darkened) become the narrator for dozens upon dozens of National Geographic specials (such a familiar voice that they joke in JURAISSAC PARK about getting him to do the voice over for their guided tour). Thelma Ritter, as she did so often in the forties and fifties, steals every scene she is in as the necktie-selling, police informing Moe Williams, who is saving up for her gravestone and burial plot ("If they buried me in potter's field, it would just kill me").
The psychology of the characters comes straight from Mickey Spillane. A notable instance is the way Candy falls for Skip McCoy. This aspect of the film isn't merely improbable: it is impossible. Skip picks her pocket. He causes her to go on a long search for him while paying off stoolies along the way. He slugs her upon their next meeting when he finds her going through his things, robs her purse while she is unconscious, and then pours beer on her face to wake her up. After kissing her, he unceremoniously tosses her out on the street. When she returns, he kisses her some more, before pushing her down, taking all the money out of her purse, and then shaking her down for more money. And, of course, by this time she is hopelessly in love with him. In what universe is this possible? None, but for the sake of the drama we accept it effortlessly.
The film is stuffed with marvelous details, whether dialogue, music, or sets. No one seeing the film could ever forget Skip's bizarre waterfront lodgings, in which he cools his beer (and stores his booty) by lowering a wooden box into the East River with a rope. Among dozens of great touches, one of my favorites is when a stoolie, eating Chinese food, takes his tip money and puts it in his pocket using chopsticks. The score, by the relatively unknown Leigh Harline, nonetheless manages to be almost as edgy as Edward Hermann.
Interestingly, for all the film's cynicism and edginess, it actually ends up with a more conventional happy ending than most of the hardboiled crime films of the forties and fifties. The guy and the gal end up together, and perhaps even happy. Moe tells Skip, "Stop using your hands, Skip, and start using your head." He does, and all ends well. By the end, the bad guys are all either dead or in jail. What is fascinating about all this is that it was a direct violation of the Code, which decreed that all characters who engage in crime must be shown as paying for those crimes by the end of the film (which is why all those Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney villains of the thirties always died by the end of the film). Skip McCoy is not only a creep, he is a thief, yet at the end he is not only punished: he is given a clean bill of health for cooperating in taking down Commies. As such, he is one of the most unique anti-heroes of the age.
This is an absolute must-see film though I would like to add that for a Criterion film, this has perhaps the smallest number of first-rate features that I can recall. The print itself is pristine and gorgeous, but you get no additional video features. All the features are either articles or printed interviews."
A 1950's classic
tacks31 | San Francisco, CA | 06/14/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For those who appreciate the fine acting of Thelma Ritter, this film is a must-have (along with Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window"). Her portrayal as the informant is a classic role for one of the best supporting actresses Hollywood has ever seen.Richard Widmark also lends one of the greatest performances of his career, right up there with his roles in "Kiss of Death" (1947) and "Judgement at Nuremburg" (1961). The Criterion release provides a magnificent restoration of this underrated film noir gem.I am rather baffled as to the clueless wonder at Amazon.com who tagged this motion picture with an NC-17 rating. Either that person didn't see the film, or the lights are on but nobody's home. "Pickup on South Street" isn't a skin flick. It is one of the greatest dramatic thrillers of the 1950's.Get this DVD on Criterion. It's an essential classic for any serious film collector."
The Face of Film Noir
Kathy Fennessy | 03/08/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The face of film noir wouldn't have been the same without the distinctive face of Richard Widmark who exploded into the genre with his memorably over-the-top performance as baddie Tommy Udo in 1947's Kiss of Death. For my money, however, it's the underrated Victor Mature who really carries that film, although Widmark gets all the flashy scenes (his pushing of a wheelchair-bound Mildred Dunnock down the stairs is widely considered one of the cruelest in film history).In Jules Dassin's Night and the City (1950) and Pickup on South Street, however, Widmark truly comes into his own with two of the finest film noir performances of all time. The stage trained actor had added some substance to the flash. You find yourself sympathizing with the callous Skip McCoy (Pickup on South Street) and nervous Harry Fabian (Night and the City) despite their bad qualities. There's an underlying vulnerability behind all the tough talk and rough gestures (the fact that Widmark looked so undernourished in the '50s may have also had something to do with it). With the uncompromising Sam Fuller (Shock Corridor) at the helm and Thelma Ritter (All About Eve, Rear Window) in a scene-stealing supporting role, you can't go wrong. An essential release for the film noir afficionado."
PICK UP should be listed among the 100 best films ever made
Evelio Lecour | Miami, Florida | 03/20/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The camera angles, the emotion, the violent outbursts of its characters and the suspense can be sensed in every frame of this film. Sam Fuller did create a masterpiece and it won him the Best Film Award at the Venice Film Festival in 1954 - deservedly!The acting: Widmark is at his best. His Skip is a bomb threatening to explode any time. This is probably Jean Peters's best acting job in a movie. This actress has a lot of fire in her that she seems to keep under control, but - like Widmark - you can sense it can explode any time. Thelma Ritter (who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance) is tops as well and so is Richard Killey. These four actors in fact should have all been nominated for awards and certainly the film should have been - but that was Hollydwood in the 50's - the film was controversial, a film noir at that and Cinemascope and spectacles had entered the picture and sweeping all the awards then selected by fools enchanted with special effects, color and big screens.
This film is a jewel and it should be given more attention, more credit, and you should see it!!!"
A FILM WITH A HARD EDGE.
scotsladdie | 11/11/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A rough and brutal melodrama set against the backdrop of New York's seedy underworld which delves into the secret workings of federal agents and Communist spies. Widmark plays the petty crook, the proverbial three-time loser, whose actions are motivated solely by greed. When he lifts a wallet from the purse of Jean Peters, he gets himself into deeper trouble than he could ever imagine...A truly provocative film, PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET was originally a simple story about drug pushers. Originally cast in the Peters role was Betty Grable(!). Shelley Winters was also considered (a much better choice). This film is quite complex with some intricate depth: miles beyond a mere anti-Communism film - this was filmed during the infamous McCarthy era - it unfortunately is viewed as such by many. Thelma Ritter steals the show as the seedy but much-loved Moe. The viewer is captivated by her natural acting technique: when she dies by Kiley's wicked hand while listening to the phonograph, the viewer is spellbound. Ritter won an Oscar nomination for her outstanding work."