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Pickup on South Street Reviews

Page 2 of 12
September 15, 2014
An underrated noir that features fine acting from the cast. There's enough wit, sensuality, and violence to make this noir credible to it's genre. The highlight of the film is Thelma Ritter, to no surprise. Her veteran presence and perfect timing is the kind of stuff we've gotten used to in her performances. "Pickup on South Street" is the kind of film that draws you in with it's plot, keeps you with it's tension and sensuality, and entertains you with wit. An unappreciated noir.
May 6, 2014
Great characters make this OK film noir worth watching.
July 26, 2013
cold war anti communist propaganda and mediocre story.
June 28, 2013
Not All Spies Have an Ideology

I have loved Thelma Ritter as long as I can remember. I'm not sure she ever played a lead role, because there aren't a lot of lead roles out there for middle-aged women of no particular beauty. She played a lot of mothers and best friends. She seldom had a chance to shine, because that's not the kind of part she played. She can clean up after Jimmy Stewart or Doris Day. She can play matchmaker between Debbie Reynolds and Gregory Peck. But a woman like her cannot be the lead. And you know, I'd always known that I could not know how talented she was, because I'd never seen her do anything challenging. It is still true here that she's a minor character. However, she gets one moment that is extremely powerful, extremely moving. In all honesty, this film is worth watching just for that single scene; you'll know it when you get to it. And then she lost the Oscar for it to Donna Reed in [i]From Here to Eternity[/i].

Candy (Jean Peters) is doing one last favour for her ex-boyfriend, Joey (Richard Kiley). She is simply to make a delivery of an envelope; she doesn't even know what's in it. However, when she's on the subway, Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) slips his hand into her purse and steals that envelope. And that's when we find out--Joey had been under surveillance by the US government for being a spy. That envelope contained microfilm. The Communists want to get it back, and the FBI wants to stop them. The police enlist the help of informant Moe Williams (Ritter), hoping to find the pickpocket before the Communists do. Somehow, Candy manages to find Skip herself; Moe is Skip's friend and won't tell the police where to find him. Candy, however, falls in love with him. She doesn't care about the microfilm any more than he does, but she does care very much about what will happen to him if the Communists get him. Or, come to that, if they get her.

I think Moe has given up on hope in this world. She sells secrets to the police and, apparently, black market ties to construction workers and so forth. That's not much of a life, and she knows it. There's certainly not a lot of money in it, but she saves every cent she can toward a proper burial. She has a deep horror at the idea of ending up in potter's field, just one more person that no one cares enough about to claim for burial. She wants a proper funeral, a proper headstone, the works. And it could be just me, but I don't think people think that way who have all that much to live for. Ritter was only fifty-one at the time, but in Hollywood, that's an age where you're playing considerably older women. I doubt Moe is old enough to be collecting Social Security, but she's certainly no longer young. She has no family. People like her, but she's aware of who and what she is, and she's aware of the place she has in the world. The funeral she dreams of is a way of ensuring someone someday thinks she was worth something, when they see her grave.

Joey doesn't appear to be in the spy game because of his abiding Communist principles. Indeed, hardly anyone in the movie seems to have any principles at all. Skip hardly seems to know why he's a pickpocket. Moe cares more about the money than the idea of putting criminals behind bars. Candy is drifting through life. She hardly knows enough to know that she shouldn't be helping Joey, because she doesn't know what Joey is doing. When the police find Skip, they try to get him on their side by appealing to his sense of patriotic duty, only to discover that he does not, in fact, have one. He's an American because he was born in the United States, and if he had been born somewhere else, he'd live there, instead. He doesn't want to move, though, because he doesn't care that much about any other country, either. These people are just going through the motions of living, and none of them really want to do more than that.

Overall, this is a fairly middle-of-the-road noir, one that has some similarities with various others that tried to be more interesting than they were by throwing in a touch of Cold War hysteria. (It's possibly worth noting that the plot was about drugs in both the French and German dubs.) About the only thing that truly stands out in it is Thelma Ritter's performance, and that alone is reason enough to watch it so far as I am concerned. I have discovered in myself a persistent fondness for actresses who ended up stuck in the sidekick role--in addition to Thelma Ritter, there is also my love of Joan Blondell. It would be nice if the darker byways of American cinema had provided those women with more opportunities; after all, one of the reasons Marilyn Monroe didn't get the role of Candy was that they needed someone less blatantly sexual. There was a place in these films for women of average appearance or middle age, at least theoretically. It's a shame it wasn't true in practice.
March 29, 2009
Typical 50's melodrama.
July 12, 2010
When a pickpocket steals a vital microfilm from a woman's purse, he gets more than he bargained for when a Communist spy ring and the police come after him. This playful and fun noir film has plenty of thrills, cool characters, and romance, and a great performance from Richard Widmark.

Super Reviewer

April 24, 2013
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. 5 Stars. 4-20-13
Luc L.
December 7, 2012
A violent film noir.
December 16, 2008
Unlike more ripened and thematically complex noir selections I could name, the dialogue and staging are pure style, and the plot is pure tabloid. It's just lean and wicked straight to its core, fast-paced and action-based. Like the sensationalistic pulp its writer-director inspired, it's more interested in firing a barrage of sensations than with telling a believable story. But interestingly, what makes it memorable contradicts what makes it flashy: The turning point that gives the stylistic building blocks humanity, Thelma Ritter's tough-as-nails final scene, single-handedly makes the movie.
September 10, 2012
With its subtle political subtext, Pickup of South Street comes as one of the most violent noir movies. The suspense is smoothly building up until the last, crucial minutes. After a pickpocketing job went wrong, when a man stole a purse, which contained very valuable government information, people end up dead. Only the guy in possession of the precious object is the one, who can actually stop the whole farce. But because of his stubbornness and foolish attitude, more and more people become involved in the awful multinational affair. Yet after a few meetings with a beautiful young woman, he finally changes his mind, which brings the whole story to a truly climatic climax, and one of the most frightening subway fights in the history of movies. Some fine acting, and very decent cinematography.
April 21, 2012
Great noir with great performances from Widmark, Peters and especially Ritter. Extremely misogynistic and brutal, with dubious pro-McCarthyist politics (even a pick-pocket can help the fight against Communism).
November 17, 2007
Greatest Femmes Fatales in Classic Film Noir
December 17, 2011
Pickup on South Street is a brilliant film. It is about a pickpocket who lifts a message destined for enemy agents and becomes a target for a Communist spy ring. Richard Widmark and Jean Peters give amazing performances. The screenplay is well written. Samuel Fuller did a great job directing this movie. I enjoyed watching this motion picture because of the thrills. Pickup on South Street is a must see.
November 16, 2011
The best film noir that I've seen in a very long time. Great storyline combined with top casting, acting and direction make this a must see! Thelma Ritter is wonderful as Moe.
Graham J

Super Reviewer

October 30, 2011
One of the great film noir's and my favorite early work of Sam Fuller.
Matt the Hat
July 15, 2010
Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) is a low down dirty hood, a pickpocket with a string of offences. One more conviction and he'll be in Sing Sing for a long time. But you got to earn a living some how. On a packed subway train Skip spots a target, a young attractive woman (Jean Peters) and lets his wandering hands steal from her purse. Unbeknown to him, two FBI agents are following her. She's carrying microfilm with important atomic information that's to be passed on to a Communist organisation. Skip has finally hit the jackpot and reckons a big score is to be had. The FBI and the Reds attempt to track him down.

Director Sam Fuller certainly packs a punch with this hard hitting drama. And punches are literally laid out to the females, especially poor old Jean Peters as Candy, the prostitute who gets socked on the jaw as well as being tossed around like a rag doll. One often feels sorry for her, although she does get retribution. Weasel faced Widmark plays to type as the cocky tea leaf all dressed in his trademark fedora and suit. Sexual chemistry between the leads add fission as they try to outwit each other. Although it is Thelma Ritter as Moe who steals the film as a police informer with scruples.

Pickup On South Street is very much of it's time, a propaganda film that points decidedly at the "Commies" as the bad guys as oppose to the more sympathetic characters such as the stool pidgeon and the prostitute who become more patriotic as events unfold. All that is except Skip who will do anything for a quick buck. The Cold War casts a large shadow over the film. Interestingly the French, not liking the anti-Communist message, dubbed in a plot using drugs instead.

A dynamic, violent thriller, Fuller who also wrote the script delivers a visually rewarding film noir that never lets up. With action and interest in every scene and the location shots of New York excitingly staged.

All in all, a cracker!
December 28, 2010
Finally checked out this early Fuller film that I had always been aware of yet had never gotten a chance to sit down with.

A small time thief finds himself on the wrong side of both spies as well as the law when he pick the wrong pocket, and while it ends on a possibly far-fetched note, it's still amazingly watchable and holds up rather well even after all these years.

Well worth a look, give it a rental.

Super Reviewer

September 5, 2010
Utterly brilliant movie, I loved Widmark's performance, I just fell in love with him by watching this movie. If you love 50s thrillers, you can't miss this one.
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