Thursday, September 18, 2014
Pickup on South Street
Written and directed by Samuel Fuller from a story by Dwight Taylor, Pickup on South Street is the story of a petty crook who steals a pocketbook from a woman that features secrets that are confidential by the U.S. government. The film is a noir-thriller set during the early years of the Cold War where a crook and a woman are caught in the middle of a chase involving Federal officers and Communist agents. Starring Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, and Thelma Ritter. Pickup on South Street is a riveting noir film from Samuel Fuller.
The film revolves around a pickpocket who steals a wallet from a woman’s purse unaware that it features an item that both the U.S. government and Communist spies want where he and the woman he stole from are in trouble. It’s a film that plays into the paranoia of Communism spreading into the U.S. yet writer/director Samuel Fuller would focus more on characters and their motivations rather than a lot of the political implications that occur. Especially as the pickpocket Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) is just looking for money to steal as he wants nothing to do with Communism as he realizes that there is more at stake. While he is reluctant to trust Candy (Jean Peters) who wants the film back for her boyfriend, Skip wonders if Candy knew what she was carrying where she would eventually find out. The only person the two trust is an offbeat informer in Moe (Thelma Ritter) who works for little money but also is aware of what is right and wrong.
The film’s script is filled with some very stylish dialogue that plays into the world of film noir where there is a certain language in the way everyone talks. Even as it plays to everyone trying to outwit each other in order to get what they want. Yet, many of the characters in the film all want something but in the process realize that there’s a price to be paid where both Skip and Candy eventually decide to do what is right. One character that is key to the story is Moe as she is someone who knows about the ins and outs of the underworld but isn’t a total snitch as she would often steer people into the right path as she is also someone who is weary and has seen so much in her life.
Fuller’s direction is quite stylish not just in the way he plays into the visual language of film noir but also in the way he would subvert some of the expectations of the genre in favor of character study. Notably as Fuller would create some very intense yet intimate moments in the way Skip would do his pick pocketing where it’s all about timing and going for the move. It’s also a moment in the film where it is shown from different perspectives where there are men who are watching Skip as they’re tailing Candy. Fuller would take a break from the action where it is about speculation about whether Skip is a Communist while Candy who has very little clue about what she was supposed to do finds herself in a situation that makes her uncomfortable. The use of tight close-ups and medium shots would play into the drama that includes this chilling scene of a weary Moe facing a Communist agent. It would lead into Skip and Candy finding redemption as its climax does play to typical noir showdowns but one that manages to be fulfilling. Overall, Fuller creates a gripping yet very smart film about a pickpocket who uncovers a dark secret that could impact the world.
Cinematographer Joseph McDonald does brilliant work with the film‘s very stylized black-and-white photography with its noir-inspired interior shadings for scenes at night as well as some of the nighttime exterior lighting schemes. Editor Nick De Maggio does fantastic work with the editing with its rhythmic editing style to the pick pocketing scene as well as some of the dramatic moments where the editing is methodical to play into its suspense. Art directors Lyle Wheeler and George Patrick, with set decorator Al Orenbach, do excellent work with the look of the pier shack that Skip lives in to the quaint apartment of Moe.
Costume designer Travilla, with wardrobe supervisor Charles Le Maire, does nice work with the costumes from the stylish dresses that Candy wears to the suits the men wear. The sound work of Winston H. Leverett is superb for some of the sound effects that occur including some chilling moments inside the pier and in the locations the characters are in. The film’s music by Leigh Harline is wonderful for its thrilling orchestral score that features some elements of jazz as well as some somber pieces for the drama.
The film’s amazing cast includes some notable small roles from Willis Bouchey and Milburn Stone as a couple of government agents tailing Skip and Candy, Murvyn Vye as a police captain who doesn’t like Skip, and Richard Kiley in a very crucial and chilling performance as Candy’s boyfriend Joey. Thelma Ritter is phenomenal as Moe as this informant who doesn’t take shit from anyone while being the one person who is this unlikely conscious as she has this great monologue that is heartbreaking but also compelling about who she is. Jean Peters is superb as Candy as this woman who realizes what she has done as she tries to set things right while falling for Skip. Finally, there’s Richard Widmark in a marvelous performance as Skip McCoy as a pickpocket who deals with his discovery as he eventually realizes the trouble that is happening where he would try and do what is right.
Pickup on South Street is a phenomenal film from Samuel Fuller that features great performances from Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, and Thelma Ritter. The film is one of Fuller’s more seedy yet stylish films that showcase his dark take on film noir with a dose of captivating stories and characters. In the end, Pickup on South Street is a remarkable film from Samuel Fuller.
Samuel Fuller Films: I Shot Jesse James - The Baron of Arizona - The Steel Helmet - Fixed Bayonets! - Park Row - (Hell and High Water) - (House of Bamboo) - (China Gate) - Run of the Arrow - (Forty Guns) - Verboten! - (The Crimson Kimono) - (Underworld U.S.A.) - Merrill's Maurauders - Shock Corridor - The Naked Kiss - (Shark!) - (Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street) - The Big Red One - (White Dog) - (Thieves After Dark) - (Street of No Return) - (The Madonna and the Dragon)
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