Pickup on South Street (1953)

Genres - Spy Film, Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Film Noir, Political Thriller  |   Release Date - Jun 17, 1953 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 80 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Aubry Anne D'Arminio

Pickup on South Street is a quick, belligerent tour de force of film noir. A crime reporter turned filmmaker, writer/director Samuel Fuller is famous for adhering to the who, what, when, where, and why of cinematic storytelling, an aggressive tendency that is fully realized in Pickup. He offers no superfluous subplots, back story, or Hitchcockian MacGuffins. He shuns a first act set up and jumps immediately into the film's main action, proceeding at a breakneck pace toward a tight, curt finale. His shooting technique is equally straightforward and informative. With a cinematic style that never fails to "hook you with a headline tabloid mentality," as described by fan Martin Scorsese, Fuller exploits extreme close-ups, high angles, long takes, and zooms to make each of Pickup's shots a pronouncement. Combined with Richard Widmark's vigor as the erratic, narcissistic, and violent protagonist, this frankness truly packs a punch. Such intensity may seem incongruous with the grace of most prestigious film noir melodramas, but one must not forget that the genre is the offspring of hardboiled fiction, an unsentimental tradition bred from tabloid journalism and tough-minded heroes. Pickup's only flaw is its reliance on the Red Scare as a plot device. The film's collection of capitalist thieves (both patriotic and unpatriotic), communist villains, and unimpressive government agents pays homage to every type of political reading, and can distract many critics from its craft. Yet, Pickup on South Street's raw energy prevails; it is Samuel Fuller's most heralded work and one of film noir's greatest thrillers.