Pickup On South Street (1953) DVDRip (SiRiUs sHaRe).avi
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Pickup On South Street (1953)
On a crowded subway, Skip McCoy picks the purse of Candy. Among his take, although he does not know it at the time, is a piece of top-secret microfilm that was being passed by Candy's consort, a Communist agent. Candy discovers the whereabouts of the film through Moe Williams, a police informer. She attempts to seduce McCoy to recover the film. She fails to get back the film and falls in love with him. The desperate agent exterminates Moe and savagely beats Candy. McCoy, now goaded into action, confronts the agent in a particularly brutal fight in a subway.
Richard Widmark ... Skip McCoy
Jean Peters ... Candy
Thelma Ritter ... Moe
Murvyn Vye ... Captain Dan Tiger
Richard Kiley ... Joey
Willis Bouchey ... Zara (as Willis B. Bouchey)
Milburn Stone ... Winoki
Pickup On South Street is one of the most brilliant movies ever made. An example of the directing: When Candy (Jean Peters) starts going through her purse and notices her wallet is missing, an alarm goes off in the background in the building she's in -- as if it's an alarm going off in her head. It's not cartoon-like -- it's subtly woven into the background in a way that strikes you on a subconscious level until you've seen the film a few times and it just "clicks" that there's an alarm bell going off when she starts frantically going through her bag.
Richard Widmark is way on top of his game as a smart-alec -- he's really great -- but the highlight performance of the film was the first scene for "Moe," the street peddler/informer, played by Thelma Ritter. Later, in her apartment, you are not seeing a movie -- you're seeing a real person. I've never seen anyone "act" so real I felt like I was looking into a real room until Ritter's performance -- right down to the way her hair stuck out a bit when she removed her hat.
About a million other things just *worked,* from the way Lightning Louie picks up money with his chopsticks to the way Candy's jewelry clicks when she flicks Moe's hand away from her brooch, to the way Moe gets the dollars and change from the police captain across the FBI guy's chest -- and even the way the captain opens his filing cabinet, like he's been doing it in that way in that room for many years. "Pickup On South Street" is detailed moves (directing) with consummate performances (acting) and superb now-nostalgic visuals of the day, such as the panel truck, the boards leading to the shack out on the water, the dumbwaiter, -- and the unforgettable place Skip stashes his pocket pickings. Wonderful stuff.
"Pickup On South Street" is also one of the few movies where, even though the characters aren't perfect, you do care about them -- perhaps because they have been somewhat branded by their pasts in ways that are hard to escape: Skip as a "three-time loser" and Candy as a youngish woman who has "knocked around" a lot. When these people behave a little more badly than you'd expect, it's in sort of novel ways that make it seem you're looking in at people you'd never otherwise imagine -- and yet you know that they are possible because the actors make them so recognizably human.
In this excellent Twentieth-Century Fox film-noir, the metropolis is a labyrinth of despair in which scavengers and predators survive by living off one another. Brooding cityscapes lower over puny humanity in bleak expressionist symbolism.
A prostitute has her purse snatched on the subway. It contains a microfilm, and a communist spy ring will go to any lengths to recover it. Two parallel investigations unfold as both spies and cops hunt down the precious information.
Anti-hero pickpocket Skip McCoy is played with scornful assurance by Richard Widmark. He knows the cops to be his moral equals and intellectual inferiors, so he taunts them: "Go on," he says to captain Dan Tiger (Murvyn Vye), "drum up a charge. Throw me in. You've done it before." In this pitiless world, the cops are just one more gang on the streets. Just as Candy the hooker bribes Lightning Louie to get a lead, so the police are busy paying stool pigeons for information.
It is hard to believe that when Widmark made this film he was already in early middle age. The 39-year-old star, coming to the end of his contract with Fox, plays the upstart Skip McCoy with the irreverent brashness of a teenager. Today it may not be acceptable for the romantic lead to punch his love interest into unconsciousness then revive her by sloshing beer in her face, but by the mores of the period it signified toughness - and Candy, after all, is a fallen woman.
Jean Peters is radiant as Candy. Here, right in the middle of her five-year burst of B-movie fame, she is beautiful and engaging as the whore with the golden heart. She is the story's victim, a martyr to her beauty as much as anything else. She means well, but is constantly being manipulated by cynical men - Joey, Skip and the cops.
The real star of this movie is New York. Haunting urban panoramas and snidering subway stations offer a claustrophobic evocation of the city as a living, malevolent force. Like maggots in a rotting cheese, human figures scurry through the city's byways. Elevators, subway turnstiles, sidewalks - even a dumb waiter act as conduits for the flow of corrupt humanity. People cling to any niche that affords safety: Moe has her grimy rented room, Skip his tenebrous shack on the Hudson River. As the characters move and interact, they are framed by bridge architecture, or lattices of girders, or are divided by hanging winch tackle. The personality of the city is constantly imposing itself. The angles and crossbeams of the wharf timbers are an echo of the gridiron street plan, and the card-index cabinets in the squadroom mimic the Manhattan skyline. When Joey's exit from the subway is barred, it is as if the steel sinews of the city are ensnaring him.
A surprising proportion of this film is shot in extreme close-up. Character drives the plot, as it should, and the close-ups are used to augment character. When Skip interrogates Candy, the close-up captures the sexual energy between them, belying the hostility of Skip's words. Jean Peters' beauty is painted in light, in exquisite soft focus close-ups. The device is also employed to heighten the tension. The opening sequence, the purse snatch, contains no dialogue: the drama relies entirely on close-up for its powerful effect.
Snoopers, and snoopers upon snoopers, populate the film. Moe (Thelma Ritter) makes a living as an informant, and her place in the hierarchy is accepted, even by her victims. When Skip observes, "she's gotta eat", he is chanting a recurring refrain. Just as 'straight' New Yorkers peddle lamb chops or lumber, the Underworld traffics in the commodity of information.
And yet even the stool pigeons are superior to Joey and his communist friends. Joey's feet on Moe's bed symbolise a transgression of the most basic moral code. Joey is beyond the pale. Moe will not trade with Joey, even to preserve her life: " ... even in our crummy business, you gotta draw the line somewhere."
"Pick-Up" was made in the depths of the Cold War. Richard Nixon had just been chosen as the Republican vice-presidential candidate, having made his name with his phoney Alger Hiss expose - bogus communist microfilm and all. The McCarthy show trials were a daily reality. We see the cops in the movie inveigh against "the traitors who gave Stalin the A-bomb".
New York can be seen as a giant receptacle in which human offal cheats, squeals and murders. Containers form a leitmotif throughout the film. Moe carries her trade mark box of ties, and candy's purse, container of the microfilm, is the engine of the plot. Skip keeps his only possessions in a submerged crate, symbolising his secretive street-wisdom. The paupers' coffins, moving down the Hudson on a barge, are containers of just one more cargo being shifted around the pitiless metropolis.
The film is a masterpiece of composition. Candy is shown above the skulking Skip on the rickety gangway of the shack, signifying her moral ascendancy. When the gun is placed on the table, the extreme perspective makes it look bigger than Candy - violence is beginning to dwarf compassion. The lovers are eclipsed by the shadow of a stevedore's hook, reminding us that their love is neither pure nor absolute, but contingent upon the whims of the sinister city. Enyard the communist is a shadow on a wall, or a disembodied puff of cigarette smoke. He is like the lone alley cat amongst the garbage - a predatory phantom of the night. Camera shots from under taxi hoods, inside newspaper kiosks and through the bars of hospital beds constantly reinforce in us the awareness that we are all trapped in the metropolis. We are civilisation's mulch.
SPOILERS. Sam Fuller, as someone pointed out, was usually a better interview subject than a director. What a life he led. There's an early photo of him as a newspaperman, feet on his desk, hat tilted back on his head, smoking a cigarette -- straight out of "The Front Page." Then, column two: the U.S. Army's First Division, the Big Red One, and World War II with experiences that he could never forget. For years afterward he could not hear a car backfire, or a knock on a door, without jumping out of his chair. Column three: movie director.
The French adored him. His style was called "primitive" by some, and in fact it was down to earth and unsophisticated, rather like an article in, well, not the New York Times but maybe the New York Daily News. Or the Post. Well, not the Post. All of his movies moved fast, the way Fuller himself spoke. Everything seemed to tumble over itself trying to get on screen with little time left for contemplation.
I haven't seen all of his movies, but I believe he produced two unusually good ones: "Merrill's Marauders" and "Pick Up on South Street." Too many of the others come out like comic books. This one ha several excellent things going for it. First, a fine cast. Richard Widmark as Skip McCoy, the cannon, is good in a way that combines his insouciant charm and the brutality he showed in his early work. Jean Peters too is convincing in the tarty part of Candy. (Great name.) She's more animated here than in any other of her films. (In "Apache," I believe you could add up all of her lines AND her expressions on the fingers of one hand.) Fuller got a good performance out of her here. "What's the matter, Joey? You're talking' like it's HOT." She wears very heavy makeup. Her black eyelashes are the size of window awnings, even when she's bundled up in a hospital bed. She even trounces around in a sluttish way. Richard Kiley is an actor I've always admired. He's quite handsome in a blandly dark and sensitive-looking way, and his range was considerable: a villain here, a humanist there, a narrator of poetry on PBS. And then there is Thelma Ritter, who is sui generis, at the top of her form as the cynical wisecracking urbanite, perhaps more subdued here, and given a more complex part. She didn't make that many movies but she was a beacon in each one.
The plot? Let me see. Widmark, the expert pickpocket, boosts a roll of film from the innocent Jean Peters' pocketbook. Neither of them know it, but the film is a MacGuffin containing some kind of secret microfilm to be passed on to the Commies. Widmark's response when he learns this, as the cops try to pressure him into cooperating: a smile of disbelief and, "You wavin' the flag at ME?" (He's great.) Most of the movie is concerned with Kiley's attempts to retrieve the film before his bosses off him, and before the cops find out what's going on. People routinely betray one another, then forgive. They also casually brutalize one another. Jean Peters especially gets knocked around. First she's clipped on the jaw and is knocked out at her first meeting with Skip. (The movie follows the usual short-cuts: one bop and the recipient is out cold for as long as the plot requires.) The first thing Widmark does is grin widely and go through her purse, then he takes a swig of beer out of the bottle before pouring some on her face to wake her up. (As I said, all the conventions are followed because it just saves time.) But she really gets bashed by Joey, the Commie who is trying to squeeze some intel out of her. She is so vulnerable. Just out of the tub, still wet, wrapped in a white robe with a hood covering her hair. Fuller holds on the beating with a single shot and a shaky camera as the two of them reel around the room and Peters is bounced off walls and caromes into bookcases, and is finally shot and wounded. It's one of the few moments when the viewer is gripped, because the drama is not undercut by irony. The other scene involves Thelma Ritter. Jean Peters falls much too quickly for Widmark, though. You can't help noticing it because by their second meeting she is hopelessly devoted to him. It's all the more odd because Widmark can't seem to keep himself from belting her around and ridiculing her at every opportunity. Of course this sort of masculine behavior may appeal to some women. It's always worked for me. A couple of unprovoked clips on the jaw and they worship you.
How does Fuller handle all this? With aplomb. The production values don't shoot out the lights. The non-electrified shack that Widmark lives in could have been given some real atmosphere, but as it is it's nothing more than a perfunctory set, with a "Bait and Tackle" sign on the outside. What appears to be the Brooklyn Bridge can be glimpsed through the window (an obvious photo), which means that the owner of the shack used to sell fishing gear on the East River, from which nobody could pull anything but porgy with cholera sauce. Fuller ignores all this and zips through the movie headlong, the way a reporter might try to bang out an article under a deadline. Sometimes the approach works, and sometimes it doesn't. Here, it does. See it if you get the chance.
* The French title for the movie is "Le Port de la Drogue" ("The Drugs Port"). The film is clearly about espionage, but in the French version the title was changed to refer to drugs, and even the dialogue referring to the spying was completely replaced by dialogue about drug dealing.
* The German title for the movie is "Polizei greift ein" ("Police takes over"). The film is clearly about espionage, but in the German version the title was changed and even the dialog referring to the spying was completely replaced by dialog about drug dealing.
* Shot in 20 days.
* In the opening scene on the subway, a soldier who leaves the train is shown wearing the "Big Red One" 1st Infantry Division shoulder patch. Director Samuel Fuller fought with the 1st Infantry Division during World War II, and later made a film about it -- The Big Red One (1980).
* Betty Grable, not wanting to take on a downcast role, decline to play Candy. Twentieth Century-Fox then put Miss Grable on suspension.