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"Pickup on South Street" (1953) Samuel Fuller


Samuel Fuller’s 1953 film “Pickup on South Street” is a crime film noir starring Richard Widmark as Skip McCoy, Jean Peters as Candy, Thelma Ritter as Moe, Murvyn Vye as Captain Dan Tiger and Richard Kiley as Joey. During the 1940s and 1950s, film noirs and action films were one of the dominant films in Hollywood. The setting of “Pickup on South Street” took place in New York City, which allowed filmmakers to include excellent, detailed shots of the New York City.


The main character, Candy had a wallet that was stolen, which had a potential communist spy film. Following World War II, the United States of America and the Soviet Union were having serious disputes between democracy and communism, known as the “Cold War”. The Cold War lasted from 1946 until the late 1980s between the United States and the Soviet Union. At the start of the Cold War, some films in America had an intention to educate how serious and dangerous spying on the Soviet Union was.


The movie did not include a cast list in the opening credits, so figuring out who the characters names were took a while because the actors did not mention their names until there was some sort of dialogue or extreme action. Throughout the movie, there were phenomenal shots of New York City, including the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Bridge and the waterfront of the East River. Throughout the movie, the mood felt realistic but at the same time felt comedic and very well played between all of the actors.


The movie opened up when a woman named Candy was riding a subway train and realized her wallet went missing upon her arrival at home. The theft took a lot of effort to investigate until Candy met a man, Skip McCoy. At that point, Skip and Candy fell in love with each other, but ironically, it was possible that Skip was involved in the disappearance of Candy’s wallet. Once she realized that, Candy began to persuade Skip to give back her wallet, who hid her wallet in his home. Following that, the detectives questioned Skip, and would be told that his record will be cleaned if he returned the wallet to Candy, which contained a national security microfilm to send to communists.


When this movie was released in 1953, the United States of America were in the beginning stages of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The microfilm that Candy provided viewers some propaganda of how serious holding national security secrets can be. Also, during this time, America was at war with Korea, who was trying to become a complete communist or a democratic nation. The microfilms likely had information that could have harmed America if they were sent to the communists in the Soviet Union. This movie taught viewers that spying by the communists was extremely dangerous, and it helped America’s fear of communist infiltration. Despite the issue at the time, the movie was well portrayed, and it was very entertaining to watch from beginning to end.

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Michael Atkinson
Michael Atkinson
08 de mar. de 2021

OK, but what about the film stylistically? It's film noir and as you point out a Cold War thriller of sorts, but Fuller's aggressive, pugnacious style -- with dramatics, acting and camera angles -- was unique, to the point of being intolerable to some viewers. But what makes him no-holds-barred in-your-face is what Fuller fans love about him (and he's also unerringly deft with visuals and cutting, as in this film's pickpocket scenes). Anyway, the anti-Communism stuff was de rigueur for the time -- but you can read in Fuller's overwrought style a sense of seeing both sides as certain dergrees of bullshit. He's more interested in the rogue individual, the rebel on the system's fringe.

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