Pickup on South Street
Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., April 23, 2004
Pickup on South StreetThe Criterion Collection, $29
According to the supplemental features on Criterion's sterling new digital transfer/treatment of 1953 grifter standard Pickup on South Street, commando Sam Fuller's 20th Century Fox debut was also the pistol-packing screenwriter/director's first "A"ssignment under Darryl Zanuck. A half-century later, The Front Page pitbull's blitzkrieg police report (80 minutes) cum red scare tumults gloriously, yet unmistakably like a grade-A "B." Lead punching bag Jean Peters, watched by future husband Howard Hughes "from the driver's seat of the big car parked outside" according to Fuller, was no Marilyn Monroe, who the director reveals purred for the part. Not that a bombshell could've landed "canon" (pick pocket) Skip McCoy, another trademark Richard Widmark shark. Skippy's lifted Candy's wallet on the NYC subway in a wordless opening sequence straight out of Fifties film lore, neither two-bitter privy to the fact that her ex (a ruthless Richard Kiley) has dispatched her to a rendezvous bearing Stalin-friendly microfilm. The pair of "Big Thumb" agents tailing Candy catches up with the light-fingered three-time loser by paying Moe the stoolie (Thelma Ritter, nominated here for an Oscar) $38.50. "You waving the flag at me?" snorts McCoy incredulously when informed of his patriotic duty to give. Not that Pickup on South Street concerns patriotic duty. It's about three crumbs whom Zanuck agreed added up to no real hero, only Fuller was too sentimental not to care about characters he'd drawn from his one-time beat. Neither can Pickup on South Street be considered a true noir like the considerably more harrowing Night and the City (1950), starring Widmark and true A-list Fox contractee Gene Tierney. Here, even Widmark's screentime somehow comes up short, though one has to marvel at how the Hays office could outlaw married couples sharing the same bed while routinely permitting dames like Candy getting slapped, slugged, and shot. Fuller claimed he hated violence, and indeed, the only other overriding force in his films besides his up-your-face close-ups was the remarkable gusto with which he told them the sheer intensity and emotionalism of his storytelling. The Sam Fullerness of it all.