Pickup on South Street
|Pickup on South Street|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Samuel Fuller|
|Produced by||Jules Schermer|
|Screenplay by||Samuel Fuller|
|Story by||Dwight Taylor|
|Music by||Leigh Harline|
|Editing by||Nick DeMaggio|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||80 minutes|
Pickup on South Street (1953) is a film noir thriller written and directed by Samuel Fuller and released by the 20th Century Fox studio. The film stars Richard Widmark, Jean Peters and Thelma Ritter. This movie was screened at Venice Film Festival in 1953.
Widmark plays Skip McCoy, an insolent pickpocket who steals the wallet of Candy (Peters). Unbeknownst to Skip or Candy, the wallet contains a microfilm of top-secret government information. Candy was delivering an envelope as a final favor to her ex-boyfriend, Joey. But Candy didn't know the envelope's content, nor did she know that Joey was a Communist spy.
Joey's espionage had been under Federal investigation for months. Skip is soon the subject of a manhunt: wanted by police, federal agents, and by Candy and Joey. Candy attempts to seduce Skip, but he turns her down. But when Skip discovers the importance of the microfilm, he rejects the cops' appeals to patriotism and instead offers the microfilm to whoever can deliver $25,000. After Candy realizes that Joey had set her up, she changes sides in the scheme and confesses her love for Skip.
A Communist agent interrogates Moe (Ritter). Skip's only real friend, she refuses to rat him out. The agent kills her in cold blood, and Skip vows revenge. The agent, Joey, then confronts Candy in her apartment. She has obtained 4 of the 5 film slides from Skip, but refuses to tell Joey where the last is, and he shoots her. The cops then arrive and try to arrest Joey, who escapes and chases after Skip. He runs into Skip on the subway where the two engage in a climactic battle that ends with Skip beating Joey to death.
Thanking him for his help, the police wipe Skip's record, and he finally leaves with a recovered Candy hoping to start a new life.
- Richard Widmark as Skip McCoy
- Jean Peters as Candy
- Thelma Ritter as Moe
- Murvyn Vye as Captain Dan Tiger
- Richard Kiley as Joey
- Willis Bouchey as Zara
- Milburn Stone as Winoki
Darryl F. Zanuck showed Fuller, who was then under contract to 20th Century Fox, a script by Dwight Taylor called Blaze of Glory about a woman lawyer falling in love with a criminal she was defending in a murder trial. Fuller liked the idea but knew from his previous crime reporter experience that courtroom cases take a long time to play out. Fuller asked Zanuck if he could write a story of a lower criminal and his girlfriend that he originally titled Pickpocket but Zanuck thought the title too "European". Fuller had memories of South Street from his days as a crime reporter and came up with his new title. Fuller met Detective Dan Campion of the New York Police Department to research the background material of his story to add realism, with Fuller basing the role of Tiger the police detective on Campion who had been suspended without salary for six months for manhandling a suspect.
Fuller turned down many actresses for the lead role including studio favorites Marilyn Monroe, Shelley Winters, Ava Gardner, who looked too glamorous, Betty Grable, who wanted a dance number written in, and initially Jean Peters who he didn't like when he saw film of her in Captain from Castile. With only a week to go before the film started, Fuller saw Peters walk into the studio's commissary whilst having lunch. Fuller noticed Peters walked with a slightly bow legged style that many prostitutes did. Fuller was impressed with Peters' intelligence, spunkiness, and different roles at the studio when he tested her the Friday before shooting started on the Monday. When Betty Grable insisted on being in the film and threatened problems, Fuller promised to walk off the film. Peters was restored.
In August 1952, the script was deemed unacceptable by the Production Code, by reasons of "excessive brutality and sadistic beatings, of both men and women." The committee also expressed disdain for the vicious beating of the character "Candy", on the part of "Joey." Although a revised script was accepted soon after, the studio was forced to shoot multiple takes of a particular scene in which the manner of Jean Peters and Richard Kiley frisk each other for loot, was too risqué.
The French release of the movie removed any reference to spies and microfilm in the translation. They called the movie Le Port de la Drogue (Port of Drugs). The managers of 20th Century Fox thought that the theme of communist spies was too controversial in a country where the Communist Party was still hugely influential.
FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had lunch with Fuller and Zanuck and said how much he detested Fuller's work and especially Pickup on South Street. Hoover objected to Widmark's unpatriotic character especially his line "Are you waving the flag at me?", the scene of a Federal agent bribing an informer and other things. Zanuck backed Fuller up, telling Hoover he knew nothing about making movies but removed references to the F.B.I. in the film's advertising.
In June 1954, Ritter co-starred alongside Terry Moore and Stephen McNally in a Lux Radio Theatre presentation of the story. 20th Century Fox remade the picture in 1967 as The Cape Town Affair, directed by Robert D. Webb and starring Claire Trevor (in the Thelma Ritter role), James Brolin (in his first leading role), and Jacqueline Bisset.
When the film was released, reviews were somewhat mixed. Bosley Crowther wrote,
- "It looks very much as though someone is trying to out-bulldoze Mickey Spillane in Twentieth Century-Fox's Pickup on South Street, ...this highly embroidered presentation of a slice of life in the New York underworld not only returns Richard Widmark to a savage, arrogant role, but also uses Jean Peters blandly as an all-comers' human punching-bag. Violence bursts in every sequence, and the conversation is slangy and corrupt. Even the genial Thelma Ritter plays a stool pigeon who gets her head blown off...Sensations he has in abundance and, in the delivery of them, Mr. Widmark, Miss Peters, Miss Ritter and all the others in the cast do very well. Murvyn Vye, as a cynical detective, is particularly caustic and good, and several other performers in lesser roles give the thing a certain tone."
The staff at Variety magazine said of the film,
- "If Pickup on South Street makes any point at all, it's that there is nothing really wrong with pickpockets, even when they are given to violence, as long as they don't play footsie with Communist spies...Film's assets are partly its photography, which creates an occasional tense atmosphere, and partly the performance of Thelma Ritter, the only halfway convincing figure in an otherwise unconvincing cast...Widmark is given a chance to repeat on his snarling menace characterization followed by a look-what-love-can-do-to-a-bad-boy act as Widmark's hard-boiled soul melts before Peters' romancing."
- "...including the death of the mother-figure; the hero's problem making commitment to the potential lover; a series of philosophical dalogues between the hero and his police antagonist; the interlinking of pickpocketting and sexuality; and the construction of the pickpocket hero as an extreme and deliberate outsider."
- Academy Awards: Oscar, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Thelma Ritter, 1954.
- Venice Film Festival: Golden Lion, Samuel Fuller, 1954.
- Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p248
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p225.
- 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1953', Variety, January 13, 1954.
- Pickup on South Street at the American Film Institute Catalog.
- Fuller, Samuel. A Third Face, p.298. Alfred A Knopf, 2002.
- Fuller, Samuel. Page 303, ibid.
- Fuller, Samuel. Page 308, ibid.
- Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, "Pickup on South Street Mixes Underworld Goons With Communist Spies," June 18, 1953. Accessed: June 5, 2008.
- Variety. Film review, June 17, 1953. Accessed: December 3, 2009.
- Senses of Cinema, Pickpocket, Rick Thompson June 07, 2000 Cinémathèque Annotations on Film, Issue 61, Issue 62, Issue 7.
- Pickup on South Street at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Pickup on South Street at the Internet Movie Database
- Pickup on South Street at allmovie
- Pickup on South Street at the TCM Movie Database
- Pickup on South Street essay by Luc Sante at The Criterion Collection
- Pickup on South Street film trailer at YouTube