Pickup on South Street Movie Review
Samuel Fuller, best known for his masterful psycho-ward thriller Shock Corridor, made Pickup because he (per his interview on the new Criterion DVD) wanted to get inside the mind of the pickpocket, show how he lives, and really show the audience what he's all about. That's an admirable goal, and the film's opening scenes -- wherein a seedy-looking Richard Widmark is spied plying his trade on a subway -- give us about all the insight anyone really needs into the pickpocket life.
The story picks up when Widmark's Skip McCoy finds out what he's taken. He boosted a pocketbook from a prostitute, so what is she doing with a microfilm full of spy secrets? What follows is a slip into anti-Commie neo-propaganda, as FBI agents end up on Skip's tail and his pals (including the inimitable Thelma Ritter as a local informant) end up dead.
Zipping along inside of 80 minutes, even the gritty Fuller can't bring this material to life. It borrows heavily from more superior productions -- and Robert Aldritch would make an even campier version of this tale two years later with Kiss Me Deadly. But Pickup on South Street ends up as too far-fetched to take seriously and too frivolous to merit much more of our attention than this.
The story aside, a much larger disappointment is that Pickup lacks the impact of Fuller's better works. There are a few signature touches to be found -- one masterful shot looks up an elevator shaft as light trickles through the cracks -- but these elements are few and far between. They serve to distract us from the remainder of the film, which is shot in traditional noir style, in deep shadow and in frequent close-up. It's hardly a landmark (and it's not bad by any stretch of the imagination), but it's not the masterpiece one expects to get the Criterion treatment (though Fuller's best films are already out on Criterion discs).
If you do purchase the DVD, you'll get a snazzy collection of cinematic history, Fuller-style, including two interviews with Fuller about Pickup on South Street. Trailers, lobby cards, and an exhaustive printed booklet round out the collection.