Pickup on South Street [1953]

Director Sam Fuller's biggest success of its time (and, superficially at least, his most conventional film) is the 1953 noir effort Pickup on South Street. Candy (Jean Peters) has her purse picked on the subway by small-time thief and ex-con Skip (Richard Widmark), neither of them realizing that the purse contains microfilm bound for Communist spies and that they are being watched the whole time by Federal agents. The New York police and the Feds catch up with Skip and try to cajole him into turning over the microfilm, but as he's one of Fuller's "outsider" antihero protagonists, the patriotic angle cuts no ice with him. He plays both sides against the middle when he finds out that the Communists are involved, hoping to make a big score off the deal, but eventually he comes around when he realizes that he's smitten with Candy. Finally Skip plays ball with the authorities, but is it out of his love for both his friend Moe and Candy, or is he swayed by the patriotic urgings of the FBI, or does it just come from some inner core of decency? You decide. When Skip is asked, "Do you know what treason is?" he smirks, "Who cares?"; when the Feds try to appeal to his patriotism, he sneers through several layers of Sinatra cool, "Are you waving the flag at me?" Pickup is set almost entirely in the garbage-strewn alleys, grimy subways, seedy waterfront dives, and gloomy streets of New York City; it's marked by extremely lengthy takes and fluid, mobile camera work. The closing scene when Skip tracks down another character in the subway and administers a brutal beating to him is one of the more violent scenes you'll find in '50s film noir. --Jerry Renshaw

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