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USA 1953
Directed by
Samuel Fuller
80 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Pickup On South Street

Sam Fuller’s better-dead-than-red spy-cum-crime thriller is big on style and short on credibility. Both outcomes are due to Fuller who has a great flair for B grade stylistics and far less concern for a dramatically convincing plot.

Fuller jumps right into the story as Skip (Richard Widmark), a grifter just released from his third prison term, picks the handbag of Candy (Jean Peters) on the New York subway. Unbeknownst to either she is carrying some microfilm that her boyfriend is selling to the Commies and is being tailed by the FBI. There follows a cat-and-mouse game with both interested parties trying to get the film from Skip and him trying to make money out of it.

The plot, adapted by Fuller from a story, 'Blaze Of Glory', by Dwight Taylor, is the weakest part of the film with neither the dumb-ass FBI nor the dumb-ass Reds showing the slightest ability to nail Skip. By today’s movie standards such incompetence is tiresome. Even more so because Skip lives in a packing-case shack that is the antithesis of impregnability. And then there’s the re-iterating Commie-bashing, with even stoolie Moe (Thelma Ritter, who was nominated for a best supporting actress but lost to Donna Reed's prostitute in From Here to Eternity, the Academy always being a sucker for against-type casting) drawing the line at selling information to dirty Reds.

On the upside the relationship between Skip and Candy, even if precipitously developed is pretty hot with Widmark being a very cool tough guy (and oddly, as his shack has no amenities and he sleeps in a hammock, always managing to look sharp) and Peters doing an equally steamy number as a broad who finds a sock-on-the-jaw to be an aphrodisiac. Fuller and his cameraman Joe MacDonald do a fabulous job on the visuals with all manner of eye-catching compositions no doubt fuelled by Fuller’s love of the wild side of life and the melodrama of genre film and the whole shebang is supported by an atmospheric jazz score.




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