Does it hold up?
It’s gritty, it’s powerful. And even those not especially taken with the work of its creator — director Sam Fuller — admit that the movie’s unrelenting energy and mix of Marxian political overtones plays well even in today’s turbulent times.
Under the watchful, but enthusiastic auspices of Darryl Zanuck and 20th Century Fox, Fuller shot the 70-minute (film) in 10 days, writes noir scholar Eddie Muller. Within those time and budget limitations, He packed more story-telling pizzazz than some director could muster in a lifetime.
Whatever his many executive talents, Zanuck did not have keen insights into the potential of budding stars. From (his) early days at Warners, Zanuck let many of the big ones get away, according to biographer Mel Gussow. He let Elizabeth Taylor go to MGM. He fired Rita Hayworth and later Marilyn Monroe.
But even the Fox mogul could not overlook the anarchic, malevolent potential of Richard Widmark, who represented unlikely newcomer success. Thus films such as Kiss of Death and Pickup on South Street.
Widmark portray a shifty operative on the outer edges of society, who lives on a ramshackle shanty on the grimy edge of New York harbor. He exists as a low-level grifter and pickpocket who inadvertently lifts stolen military microfilm being carried by a luscious streetwalker (Jean Peters) on a key subway ride at the behest of her ideologically driven boyfriend (Richard Kiley) — who happens to be an ardent Communist.
Inevitably Widmark and Peters knock heads especially when Federal agents become involved. There’s plenty of violence and touches of sado-masochistic romance dolled up with an overlay of ideology. And, there’s Thelma Ritter.
She portrays an elderly grifter who winds up as Widmark’s empathetic accomplice and finally the victim of various lot twists. Exhausted by life , her romantic photograph record accompanies her last moments…The shabby woman becomes proudly beautiful, write noir authors Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward.
So the short answer to the notion posed by today’s blog — yes, Pickup On South Street is certainly worth another visit.