Yesterday I caught an old 1953 black and white crime film noir, written and directed by Samuel Fuller (“The Naked Kiss”, “The Big Red One”), titled “Pickup On South Street”.
The movie opens on a crowded New York subway train on which a young woman, Candy (Jean Peters – “Three Coins In The Fountain”, “Vicki”), is travelling.
Candy is being watched by two men, one of whom we later learn to be a government agent, Zara (Willis Bouchey – “The Big Heat”, “Suddenly”).
As passengers get on and off the carriage another man, Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark – “Coma”, “Madigan”), a pickpocket recently released from prison, moves close to Candy and, under the cover of his newspaper, carefully snatches a wallet from her handbag.
When she gets off the train she discovers the wallet is missing and makes a call to her ex-boyfriend Joey (Richard Kiley – “Endless Love”, “Phenomenon”) for whom she was delivering an envelope that was in the wallet, as a final favour.
Joey tells Candy that the envelope held a piece of microfilm containing stolen business secrets and persuades her to track down the pickpocket and retrieve it using her past underworld contacts, so she gets in touch with informant Moe Williams (Thelma Ritter – “Rear Window”, “The Misfits”).
The truth, however, is that the microfilm contains top-secret government information and that Joey is a spy working for the communists. In the race to get to the microfilm first Moe is consulted by the police and Zara, whilst Candy tracks down Skip and finds herself falling for his charms…
Whilst on one level this film could be seen as a classic of the American cold-war era “good America vs evil Commies” type of movie, there’s actually more going on here under the surface. The “reds” aren’t necessarily bad, just victims of circumstance, and the cops aren’t always good, in fact it’s the pickpocket who appears more honourable in the end.
It’s the cast who really make this film shine though. Widmark is excellent as the smart alec pickpocket, Ritter fills her character with real life and depth and Peters – although less experienced – is very good as the manipulated Candy (and apparently was preferred by the director to both Marilyn Monroe and Ava Gardner!).
Superbly filmed, this is a very good film noir indeed…