Tuesday 16 July 2013

Pickup on South Street [1953]

Perhaps only a Sam Fuller could have made a movie that was, at once, a muscular film noir, a spy thriller that got kicked off by the most unlikely of coincidences imaginable, an unflinching depiction of the seedy underbelly of a city, a seemingly gung-ho political commentary, and a controlled melodrama, and all with not a single of its glorious B/W frames wasted. It in fact made me wonder whether Fuller was a chest-thumping Right-Winger or was actually having sly, underhanded fun. The tightly plotted film starts off, in a brilliant opening sequence devoid of any dialogues, with Skip (Richard Widmark), a career pickpocket who belongs to the bottom-most spectrum of the society and lives in a shack on the waterfront, stealing a purse off a saucy lady (Jean Peters) in a busy train. Unbeknownst to him, the wallet contains a micro-film with confidential government information, thus placing him right in the middle with both the good guys, viz. the cops, and the bad guys, viz. the Commie traitors, frantically chasing him. The gleefully amoral and apolitical Skip, however, realizes he has struck gold, and starts giving both sides a run for their money, until of course matters of the heart force his direction. Crisply timed, breezily paced, drenched in cynicism, filled with memorably orchestrated sequences (including a few deceptive long takes), and comprising of a superb turn by Widmark as the wickedly self-serving anti-hero, Fuller managed to dish out a film that was a darn fun watch while also being deliberately provocative. In the hands of a lesser mortal, this would have surely become a Z-grade schlock.

Director: Sam Fuller
Genre: Film Noir/Crime Thriller/Spy Thriller/Political Thriller
Language: English
Country: US


Sam Juliano said...

Another great review Shubhajit! Yes this is a hybrid that works exceedingly well. I'd only add that Thelma Ritter as the agent Moe deserves mention for her stupendous performance!

Shubhajit said...

Yes, she sure does mention for her performance of a person who's loyal to those belonging to her strata though she is forced to act as a rat for the cops on account of her financial needs - thanks for pointing that out.