Pickup on South Street
Sam Fuller’s punchy New York noir Pickup on South Street is lean and mean, yet also contains a curiously jovial quality to its portrait of post-war scavengers getting mixed up with Commies and coppers. With the delicious chemistry of bickering leads Richard Widmark and Jean Peters, it almost feels like a spiky romantic comedy got stuck in one of the 1950s’ bleakest visions of humanity – a beating heart alongside a cold soul. And it somehow all works magnificently.
Peters is a Commie agent’s patsy, unwittingly transporting a microfilm of military secrets. Widmark is the crafty pickpocket who pinches her purse and sets off a chain of events that spells disaster for them, the government agents who were on her tail, the secret Red ex-boyfriend (Richard Kiley) who did her wrong, and Thelma Ritter’s weary, Shakespearean stool pigeon. Few films are as entertaining a rush as this propulsive 80-minute whirlwind. [Josh Slater-Williams]