Pickup on South Street

Pickup on South Street (1953) movie poster

(1953) dir. Samuel Fuller
viewed: 01/14/07

Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street is probably one of the most straight-forward of his films that I have ever seen, a polished, rich film noir, featuring some great performances from Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, and Thelma Ritter. Ostensibly, a portrait of the life of a pickpocket, a low-level criminal profession that Fuller identified more akin to that of an artist but also a level of character in society that Fuller identified with. Fuller is such a fascinating character himself, and his films certainly all speak to that significantly, but in oddly different ways. In some ways perhaps, Pickup on South Street demonstrates his more formal strengths as a filmmaker, though is typically a crime film with the tough anti-heroes at its emotional core.

There are a number of great shots and scenes. It’s visually quite appealing, and there is some interesting camera movement that follows action through some moments. There are also lots of little story details that are quite nice, like how Widmark’s character keeps his beer in a box on a rope in the Hudson River since he doesn’t “have a Frigidaire”. There is also a great scene in which the villainous Joey escapes a crime scene by lowering himself down a dumbwaiter. There is a lot going on here that is cool and fun.

Ultimately, it’s an anti-Commie flick, which it handles rather humorlessly. Fuller uses the contrast of the villainy of “the Reds” in comparison with the petty crime that he sees as a nearly legitimate profession of that of the small-time crook, represented by Widmarks’s pickpocket, Thelma Ritter’s stoolpigeon, and Jean Peters’ semi-floozy mule. So, it’s an interesting mix, as I think is often noted about Fuller, of some social sensitivity toward the down-and-outers while maintaining a pretty staunch and heavy partiotism.

While it is a very good film on a number of levels, it lacks the over-the-top wackiness that I tend to associate with Fuller. At least that aspect of the film is much more tame. But it’s an excellent noir well worth its salt and certainly works well probably in a real full assessment of Fuller’s work.

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