1953’s Pick Up on South Street for the Noirathon

I like Richard Widmark’s acting.  Whenever I view one of his films, I recognize that he was a good actor who didn’t hit a wrong note in any role he was playing.   A few years ago, I recorded one of his films off of TCM, Pick Up on South Street, and wow! That film mesmerized me and after I had viewed it I was so impressed by all of it: the acting, the plot, the direction, the sets, the music; ranks as one of the best film noirs that I have ever seen.  When I saw that Maddy at Maddy Loves Her Classic Films was hosting a “Noirathon” a look at film noir selections by other classic film fans, I knew I wanted to participate.  Be sure to check out Maddy’s blog and read about  other bloggers’ film noir choices.   By the way, in case you don’t know, film noir was a term coined by the French to describe specific American films that depicted a crime story with style, an often conflicted male protagonist, and a femme fatale who adds to the conflict.  1940-1959 was the time frame for many classic film noirs to have been made. 

Richard Widmark plays Skip McCoy, a NYC pickpocket and small-time hustler who isn’t trying to stay on the straight and narrow, even though he’s been arrested and been sent to prison 3 times.  New York state must have had a 3 strikes and you’re out rule in the 1950s as it’s mentioned that if Skip is arrested a 4th time, he’ll serve the rest of his life in Sing-Sing or some other New York state penitentiary.  Candy(Jean Peters playing the femme fatale) was dating a guy named Joey(Richard Kiley) who would ask her to make deliveries for him. taking rolls of microfilm to higher-ups in some organization.  Joey explained to Candy that the microfilms were pictures of company secrets.  What Candy doesn’t realize is that Joey is a commie, and the microfilm he’s been having her deliver is to higher up commies and the film is pictures of government secrets.  Skip’s latest pickpocket target was Candy and he stole her wallet that contained the latest microfilm delivery for Joey’s commie bosses.  Unknown to Candy and Joey is that for the past 6 months, two FBI agents have been following her, hoping she’d lead them to  the commie ring.

Skip moving his way down the passenger line to Candy and her wallet.

The missing microfilm is the lynch pin that brings all the films characters together.  There’s Skip who has it, was seen by the FBI agents tailing Candy to have been the pickpocket who stole it, and even when he ‘s offered a no charge deal if he brings the film in to Police Captain Tiger(Murvyn Vye), it’s no dice.  Skip won’t comply with the cops or the feds.  Candy is ordered by her ex, Joey, to get that microfilm back.  She turns to street peddler Moe(Thelma Ritter) who has coincidentally  helped the FBI agents identify Skip as the pickpocket they’re looking for.  Moe gives Candy Skip’s address and it is in his shack by the Atlantic Ocean where he confronts Candy rifling through his stuff looking for her wallet and the microfilm.  After a scuffle, and a long kiss, we know that these two are in love/lust with one another and that this is going to complicate their lives quite a lot.  Will the microfilm get to the FBI? Will the FBI capture the commies? Will Joey get away with a savage beating of Candy, and worse, to Moe??  Will Skip end up complying and turn over the microfilm or will he try to get out of town? Will he and Candy have a future together?

Moe being confronted by slimy Joey for info on Skip

Skip(Widmark) beating the snot out of Joey(Kiley)

I’m not answering the rest of those questions as I am urging you, dear reader, to find this film and view it!!  Widmark is great as Skip.  A very cynical guy, shiftless but full of common sense that one needs to live and survive on the mean streets of NYC.  Jean Peters was a surprise to me as I’d only previously seen her in another film noir, Niagara, and in that film she is not the femme fatale.  I guess I didn’t know she had it in her to play such a tough woman and she really delivers in her role in this film.  Richard Kiley, years before starring on Broadway in The Man from LaMancha, is also quite good in this film as the slimy Joey, willing to commit espionage for money against his own country, using Candy to help him, and willing to kill those weaker than himself in order to get his money.  Thelma Ritter is just outstanding as Moe, the street peddler, who gives info to cops and the street folks.  She was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actress for this role.  Directed by Sam Fuller, the cast does excellently and Fuller wrote the screenplay himself, basing the story on his work as a crime reporter in NYC.  Incidentally, Betty Grable was one of the possible actresses for the part of Candy but she requested a dance number be added for her in the film.  I’m glad that Ms. Grable didn’t get the part!

 

Where can this film be seen?  From time to time it does air on TCM.  It is available on a Criterion Collection dvd at TCM’s shop and at Amazon.  Amazingly, the entire film is on Youtube, however it opens with the pickpocket scene on the subway, with FBI agents watching Candy before Skip finds her wallet, no opening credits.

Again, I can’t recommend this movie enough as an excellent one to view and an excellent film noir.

9 responses to this post.

  1. Dear Jenni,

    This is a very nice article! It sounds like a fascinating film.

    I wanted to let you know that I nominated you for a Liebster Award: https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2019/10/08/the-liebster-award-from-paul-batters/. At the end of the article, I invited you to join our blogathon next weekend. I look forward to hearing your response!

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

    Reply

  2. I agree with so many things you wrote: this film is great, and so is Richard Widmark – and Thelma Ritter almost steals the picture – or pickpockets the picture? – as Moe. Wonderful review.
    Cheers!
    Le

    Reply

  3. Posted by Margot Shelby on July 29, 2019 at 3:50 PM

    This is one of my all-time favorites. Widmark and Peters have enough chemistry to blow up a small country. Widmark was equally convincing as good guy or bad guy, or something in between. Peters always maintained she learned how to be sexy from Marilyn Monroe.

    It was Thelma Ritter though who stole the show. She had a knack for that.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Paddy Lee on July 27, 2019 at 10:42 PM

    It has been a few years since I’ve seen Pickup on South Street. I was educating my daughter about Sam Fuller’s work. Everything I shared impressed her. Thelma Ritter’s Oscar nomination was so well-deserved (each time!), and I wish they had awarded her the trophy for “Moe.”

    – Caftan Woman

    Reply

  5. Really loved reading your review of this one. It’s clear that you are as bigger fan of it as I am. You are so right about Richard Widmark’s acting, he never put a foot wrong. I think this is Jean Peters best performance(if you’ve not seen her much else, check out Anne Of The Indies because she’s great in that too). This is a film that grips us and really holds our attention to the end. Thanks so much for joining.

    Reply

  6. […] Portraits From Jenni writes about one of the best Noir’s of the 1950’s, the gripping Pickup On South Street.  […]

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