Pickup on South Street follows two FBI agents who are watching a young woman named Candy on the Subway, for what reason we are unaware of. Enter Skip McCoy, a cannon (pickpocket) on his third strike who has just been released from jail, (one more strike and he gets life.) The temptation of easy prey in the form of Candy overcomes Skip who uses his trademark paper routine to steal her wallet. Expecting to come away with a nice wad of cash, he finds out in due time that he has stolen microfilm meant for communist spies. Skip has opened Pandora’s box and brings on a shit storm of police investigations, communist plots, homicides and lots of other juicy affairs.
The opening scenes in the subway between Candy and the FBI caused some ambivalence as to who was double crossing who, especially when Skip enters the story. The opening scenes are very effective in establishing a great deal of suspense that held its own all the way through the film. You think you have it down, but you never quite know what is going to happen. I find myself returning to older films as the acting is great and feels so much more authentic than modern-day prestige actors and films. Skip (Richard Widmark) was very convincing in his role as a smug/nice/violent at the turn of a dime pickpocket; Candy the messed up dame, only so willing to throw herself at any man, not to mention a great performance by Thelma Ritter as stool pigeon Moe.
As far as Fuller exploits and fireworks, the film has some very brutal displays of violence against both women and men, especially Candy who is thrown around like a rag doll for most of the film, and as far as the communist-spies-thread well it was pretty daring and caused quite a bit of discomfort amongst the French who removed all the references pertaining to the microfilm and communists.
This film has it all, crooked cops, villains of all sorts and a great story line, (the film is based on a story by Dwight Taylor.) Awww and the dialogue, from ‘How many times have you been caught with your hand in the wrong place’ to ‘I’ll drive you back in a hearse if you don’t get the kink out of your mouth!’you are guaranteed to hear some boss lines in this film.
If you have seen other Fuller movies and thought they came off as a bit too unrealistic or comic bookish, you should at least rent this movie as it is truly a great piece of cinema. Concerning the action warped romances, kooky characters and ‘sadistic violence, Fuller found the perfect equilibrium between control and craziness in this film. It may not be the most amazing Noir film, but in terms of a great Fuller movie, look no further as Pickup on South Street is the perfect place to start off your collection of Fuller films.
Available on DVD, I would highly recommend the Criterion Collection edition.