“So you’re a Red, who cares? Your money’s as good as anybody else’s.”
A pickpocket (Richard Widmark) unknowingly lifts government secrets out of the purse of a woman (Jean Peters) whose boyfriend (Richard Kiley) is a Communist spy. When Widmark discovers how valuable his “take” is, he tries to extort money out of both Peters (who has fallen for him) and Kiley; meanwhile, the police try to get Widmark to turn the goods over to them in exchange for leniency.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Cold War
- Jean Peters Films
- Richard Widmark Films
- Sam Fuller Films
- Thelma Ritter Films
- Thieves and Criminals
From its opening scene on a crowded, sweaty New York subway car, Sam Fuller’s Pickup on South Street astonishes viewers with its no-holds-barred glimpse into the seedy lives of stoolies, pickpockets, spies, and the molls who love them. Utilizing extreme close-ups and effectively rapid-fire editing, Fuller immediately establishes a milieu in which risk and sensuality are deeply intertwined, with plenty of violence greasing the wheels of passion. Despite its Cold War setting — and plenty of anti-Commie rhetoric — Pickup is really less about patriotic fervor (a la camp favorite Shack Out on 101, made two years later) than about the shady individuals who find themselves caught up in the hubbub simply because it’s become a part of their underground survival.
Pickup possesses a slew of memorable characters, including Thelma Ritter as “Moe” (an aging stoolie who wants nothing more than to earn money for a decent funeral), Richard Widmark as the cynical centerpiece of the storyline (it’s difficult to imagine the role better cast), and — in perhaps the most surprising coup of all — Jean Peters as Candy, a smitten yet gutsy and gorgeous dame who’s willing to put up with an enormous amount of guff (both verbal and physical) from Widmark in exchange for his reluctant loyalty and love. The actors are filmed to perfection by cinematographer Joe MacDonald, who encases them in a dense noir ambiance so atmospheric it nearly becomes a character in itself. Pickup on South Street ultimately works on enough levels — visually, thematically, and more — to merit multiple enjoyable viewings by film fanatics.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
Yes; this excellent Cold War thriller should be seen and enjoyed by all film fanatics.
- Good Show
- Important Director
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)