Cast & Crew
One afternoon, FBI agents Zara and Enyart are following an attractive woman named Candy as she takes the subway in New York City. Unknown to Candy, her wallet is stolen by a "cannon," a pickpocket who targets women, and when she realizes that her wallet is gone, she calls her former boyfriend, Joey. With Enyart following her, she returns to Joey's apartment, where Joey upbraids her for losing the microfilm that she was supposed to deliver to a mysterious higher-up in Joey's organization. Although Candy believes that Joey is selling chemical formulas to a rival firm, he is actually a Communist who is passing on secret government information to an overseas Communist ring. Candy has made several drops for Joey and does not understand why he is so upset about this one, which he had promised would be her last. Joey insists that Candy, an ex-prostitute, use her street connections to locate the pickpocket who accosted her and retrieve the microfilm.
Meanwhile, Zara approaches police captain Dan Tiger and explains that the FBI has been following Candy for six months in order to catch the ringleader of the Communist organization. Tiger then summons Moe, a necktie peddler who often sells him information about the underworld. After grilling Zara about the pickpocket's mannerisms, Moe gives Tiger eight names, and Tiger immediately picks out Skip McCoy, a "three-time loser" who was recently released from prison. Moe then tells Tiger that Skip is living in a rundown shack on the waterfront, and Tiger, who bears a grudge against Skip because of his insolence, sends policemen Winoki and MacGregor to arrest him. Skip, who did steal Candy's wallet and has found the microfilm inside, hides it and taunts Tiger about their rivalry. Although Skip protests his innocence, Zara reveals that he is an eyewitness and informs Skip about what he has stolen.
Not trusting Tiger's promise that the theft charges will be dropped if he returns the film, Skip scoffs at Zara's appeal to his patriotism and leaves. Skip then uses the microfilm reader at the New York Public Library to scan the film and deduces that it is of a chemical formula. Meanwhile, Candy locates Moe and pays her for Skip's address. When Skip returns home, he finds Candy searching his possessions and knocks her unconscious, then steals her money before reviving her. While fighting the sexual attraction they feel for each other, Candy and Skip flirt and quarrel, and Skip tells her that he knows what the film is and demands money for it. As Candy returns to Joey, Tiger enters Skip's shack and offers to whitewash his criminal record in exchange for the film. Skip orders Tiger to leave, while at Joey's apartment, Joey's desperation grows and he gives Candy $500 with which to bribe Skip. Candy, who has fallen in love with Skip, confronts him, and Skip admits that as a three-time felon, he will be jailed for life if he is convicted again. Hoping to secure his future with a "big score," Skip demands that Candy's "Commie" friends pay him $25,000, and Candy, not understanding what Skip means, meets Joey in his boss's office. There, Candy is astonished when Joey confirms that he and his cohorts are Communists, and becomes agitated when Joey's boss gives him a pistol and orders him to deliver the microfilm the following evening.
Desperate to protect Skip, Candy gives Joey a false address, then tells Moe that she honestly did not know about Joey's politics. Moe promises Candy that she will not inform Joey of Skip's whereabouts, and then finds Skip herself, to warn him about Joey. Skip brushes asides Moe's reprimands about dealing with Communists, and also her assertion that Candy loves him. When Moe returns home, she finds Joey waiting for her, and after she refuses to inform on Skip, Joey shoots her. The police attempt to arrest Skip for the murder, but Enyart, who has been following the pickpocket, vouches for his innocence, and Skip claims Moe's body so that she will not be buried in Potter's Field. When Skip returns to his shack, he finds a distraught Candy waiting for him, and he soothingly tells her that Moe's death is not her fault. When Skip then demands the money, Candy knocks him unconscious and steals the microfilm.
Hoping to clear Skip's name, Candy takes the film to Tiger and Zara, telling them that Skip directed her to do so. Although he is doubtful about Skip's intentions, Zara asks Candy to help them by giving the film to Joey, who they can then follow to the ringleader. Later, Joey goes to Candy's apartment, and when he discovers that a frame of the film is missing, he beats Candy and shoots her. Finding Skip's address in Candy's purse, Joey eludes the police, and later, when Skip visits Candy in the hospital, she tells him that she betrayed him because she would "rather have a live pickpocket than a dead traitor." Finally realizing that he loves Candy, Skip kisses her, then goes home to wait for Joey.
Soon after, Joey and his cohort, Fenton, arrive to search for the missing frame of film, although Fenton sends Joey ahead to the airport to make the delivery while he tries to find Skip. Skip follows Joey to the airport, where he catches Joey making the delivery. After slugging the ringleader, Skip chases Joey through the streets into the subway, where he beats him mercilessly. Later, in Tiger's office, the police captain grudgingly releases Skip, and both Skip and Candy laugh at Tiger's assertion that he will be arrested again within thirty days.
Willis B. Bouchey
George E. Stone
Harry M. Leonard
Winston H. Leverett
Best Supporting Actress
Pickup on South Street
In a lot of ways, this is a mean little movie; Fuller isn't aiming to seduce anyone. The borderline ludicrous story is set into motion when, in a brilliantly-crafted opening sequence, a pickpocket named Skip (Richard Widmark) steals a wallet from Candy (Jean Peters), a low class woman who's riding on a crowded New York City subway car. Candy soon discovers her boyfriend (Richard Kiley) is a Communist spy - and now he's threatening her because he had some microfilm stashed in her wallet!
Both Candy and the Feds, who are trying to find Skip for different reasons, get information on his whereabouts from an ex-pickpocket (Thelma Ritter, in a heartbreaking, Oscar®-nominated performance) who has no problem selling what she knows to the highest bidder...until she meets a Commie. Candy, in case you couldn't see it coming, winds up falling for Skip. But Skip, who couldn't care less about Communists, only knows that the microfilm is obviously worth a lot of money. From there, it's Skip being none-too-kind to Candy, and eluding a bevy of pursuers around the city. If this movie were made today, critics would complain that there's nobody to root for, but that's half the fun. There are moments when your jaw drops over how tawdry it all is.
Fuller, a former newspaper reporter, often utilized recent headlines to add punch to his screenplays, and you couldn't get any hotter than Communists in 1953. He realized, however, that the average American didn't even know what a Communist was - they just knew that they were supposed to be appalled by their very existence. So he peppered Pickup on South Street with the Red Menace without delving into what's supposed to be so menacing about it. "I had no intention," Fuller later said, "of making a political statement in (Pickup on South Street), none whatsoever. My yarn is a noir thriller about marginal people, nothing more, nothing less."
His intention, Fuller said, was to "poke at the idiocy of the cold war climate of the fifties." Yes, he knew there were Communists who were fervent followers of Marx and Lenin, but his years on the newspaper beat taught him that there were people who would deal with literally anyone, so long as there was a decent payoff in the end. Not everybody, however, was convinced of Fuller's objective. Shortly after the release of Pickup on South Street, the director and 20th Century Fox's production head, Darryl Zanuck, were actually summoned to a meeting at a high-end restaurant with J. Edgar Hoover!
The famous FBI director, of course, was no stranger to blackmail and assorted criminal intrusions himself, but was always ready to rake the entertainment industry over the coals for its perceived threat to the American way. Years later, Fuller recalled Hoover getting especially bent out of shape by an F.B.I. agent in the movie who pays a criminal for information. Hoover insisted that the Department of Justice would never do such a thing, but Fuller was having none of it. "Mr. Hoover," he told the Director, "I was a reporter in the precincts myself. I've seen cops haggling with the Feds about fink money. I've even seen the Feds give cash to the cops for stoolies." Fuller also stood his ground on the characters' casually unpatriotic attitudes, saying that they were characters, and that their opinions in no way reflected his own.
A pair of bodyguards in black suits were sitting at a table next to Hoover's, keeping an eye on their Hollywood quarry as if they were enemy agents who might do harm to this Great American. The only harm done, however, was to Hoover's monumental ego. Neither Fuller nor Zanuck backed down, and not a second of footage was excised from Pickup on South Street. Hoover would just have to accept the unforgiving vibe, like any other viewer of a Sam Fuller picture. The difference was that other people are able to enjoy it.
Director: Samuel Fuller
Producer: Jules Schermer
Screenplay: Samuel Fuller (based on the story Blaze of Glory by Dwight Taylor)
Editor: Nick De Maggio
Cinematographer: Joseph MacDonald
Music: Leigh Harline
Art Design: Lyle Wheeler, George Patrick
Special Effects: Ray Kellogg
Set Design: Al Orenbach
Stunts: Hal Needham
Costume Designer: Travilla
Cast: Richard Widmark (Skip McCoy), Jean Peters (Candy), Thelma Ritter (Moe), Murvyn Vye (Capt. Dan Tiger), Richard Kiley (Joey), Willis Bouchey (Zara), Milburn Stone (Winoki), Henry Slate (MacGregor), Jerry O'Sullivan (Enyart), Harry Carter (Dietrich).
by Paul Tatara
Pickup on South Street
Pickup on South Street
Pickpocket: "Are you waving the flag at me?"
In the middle of the Red Scare of the 1950's, director Samuel Fuller found a way to update a Communist spy ring story for jaded audiences. An A-movie from 20th Century-Fox with the speed and grit of a B-movie, Pickup on South Street (1953) presents a still powerful look at the humanity within the lowlifes of the American underworld. Now viewers can dive into this world with the new Criterion Collection DVD edition of it.
Richard Widmark plays Skip McCoy, a pickpocket. Why is he a pickpocket? "How did you get to be what you are? Things happen that's all." He gives no excuses for his life, seeing himself as a professional who puts his nimble fingers to his own good use. However, when he lifts the wallet of some dime-a-dozen woman on the subway, he finds his fingers have gotten him into a lot more trouble than just another stretch in the pen. Her wallet contains microfilm because the woman was an unwitting courier for a Communist agent. Now McCoy is caught between federal agents out to break the spy ring and the Communists out to retrieve the microfilm. McCoy doesn't care who gets it, as long as he makes the maximum profit and gets away clean.
Naturally such a story with American citizens refusing to see their patriotic duty to fight the Commies brought down some heat on director Fuller and producer Zanuck. Both had a meeting in Washington with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover as Fuller recalls in an interview included on the DVD: "[Hoover said] I don't want an American in this Cold War to say to anyone, especially the cops, 'Don't wave that flag at me.' And Zanuck said, 'That's his character. That stays.'" It is this consistency of character that makes the movie seem so powerful. During World War II similar films were made with Humphrey Bogart, in which he would play a gangster who goes up against the Nazis and discovers his patriotism in the last reel. Widmark's pickpocket never softens or breaks character from the first reel to the last, which makes the picture's action far more believable.
Widmark is wonderful in this role, never asking the audience for sympathy by even the tiniest glance or gesture. He is matched and surpassed, however, by Thelma Ritter as the local stool pigeon, Mo. Even when she informs on the pickpocket he understands. "Mo's all right. She's gotta eat." Ritter bravely plays her part without makeup; her mottled skin and the wrinkles around her eyes adding volumes of backstory to this information peddler. Joe McDonald's cinematography is another highlight and it is flawlessly presented on Criterion's DVD with rich, high-key blacks. It is difficult to believe that this shadow-filled New York waterfront was actually shot on sets in Los Angeles.
In addition to the film presentation, Criterion also supplies two on-camera interviews with hard-as-nails action director Samuel Fuller, a selection of trailers and posters for many of his films, a critical essay and remembrances from Richard Widmark. The reality of the characters and their world presented in Pickup on South Street has kept it alive as a cult favorite long after the other Red Scare films of the 1950's have been dismissed as a product of the political hysteria of their time.
For more information about Pickup on South Street, visit Criterion Collection. To order Pickup on South Street, go to TCM Shopping.
by Brian Cady
Pickup on South Street
Sometimes you look for oil, you hit a gusher.- Skip McCoy
I know you pinched me three times and got me convicted three times and made me a three time loser. And I know you took an oath to put me away for life. Well you're trying awful hard with all this patriotic eye-wash, but get this: I didn't grift that film and you can't prove I did! And if I said I did, you'd slap that fourth rap across my teeth no matter what promises you made!- Skip McCoy
So you're a Red, who cares? Your money's as good as anybody else's.- Skip McCoy
The French title for the movie is "Le Port de la Drogue" ("The Drugs Port"). The film is clearly about espionage, butin the French version the title was changed, and even the dialogue referring to the spying was completely replaced by dialogue about drug dealing.
Shot in 20 days.
In the opening scene on the subway, a soldier who leaves the train is shown wearing the "Big Red One" First Infantry Division shoulder patch. Director Samuel Fuller fought with the First Infantry during World War II, and later made a film about it (The Big Red One).
The working title of this film was Blaze of Glory. According to a February 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, Fred Kohlmar was originally set to produce the picture. September 1952 Hollywood Reporter news items reported that Shelley Winters was originally set for the role of "Candy," but due to her pregnancy, was to be replaced by Betty Grable. Grable refused the role, however, and was placed on suspension by Twentieth Century-Fox. An September 11, 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Grable "felt she was not adapted for the straight dramatic role," while a modern source adds that Grable believed the role would not be received well by her fans. A September 12, 1952 item in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column speculated that Anne Baxter and Linda Darnell, as well as Jean Peters, were under consideration to play Candy. Although Hollywood Reporter news items include Stacy Harris and Bud Wolf in the cast, their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed.
According to the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, a August 23, 1952 version of the screenplay was deemed unacceptable "by reason of excessive brutality and sadistic beatings, both of men and women." A September 5, 1952 screenplay was also rejected due to the "brutal beating" of "Candy" by "Joey." The screenplay was approved later in Sep, however. Although a "Rambling Reporter" item on November 19, 1952 asserted that the studio was forced to shoot retakes because "the scene wherein Jean Peters and Dick [Richard] Kiley frisk each other for loot was too frisky for the Breen office," no mention of retakes was found in the PCA file.
Thelma Ritter received an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress, and Samuel Fuller was awarded the Bronze Lion at the Venice Film Festival for his direction of the picture. On June 21, 1954, Ritter co-starred with Terry Moore and Stephen McNally in a Lux Radio Theatre presentation of the story. According to a June 1982 item in Village Voice, Pickup on South Street was retitled Porte de la Drouge for release in France and was re-edited "to tell a story about drug smugglers" in order "not to offend the French Communist Party." Twentieth Century-Fox remade the picture in 1967 as The Cape Town Affair, which was directed by Robert D. Webb and starred Claire Trevor, James Brolin and Jacqueline Bisset.
Released in United States 1998
Released in United States July 1991
Released in United States November 1971
Released in United States Summer June 17, 1953
Shown at Avignon/New York Film Festival (Fuller Tribute) in New York City (French Institute) April 24 - May 3, 1998.
Completed shooting October 16, 1952.
Remade as "The Cape Town Affair" (1967) directed by Robert D Webb.
Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Avignon/New York Film Festival (Fuller Tribute) in New York City (French Institute) April 24 - May 3, 1998.)
Released in United States Summer June 17, 1953
Released in United States July 1991 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum: Sam Fuller Retrospective) July 19 & 20, 1991.)
Released in United States November 1971 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The Film Noir) November 4-14, 1971.)