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Monday, March 28, 2011

PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (1953)

Writer/helmer Samuel Fuller rarely balanced his taste for abrupt violence & tabloid sentiment to better effect than he did in this blistering film noir about a subway pickpocket who accidentally gloms onto a Commie plot. Richard Widmark is just about perfect as a cynical ‘cannon’ who finds money & microfilm in Jean Peters purse and then has to choose between gaming the authorities who are tailing this innocent; scamming the Reds who are running her; or giving in to the romantic possibilities of a conscience. The whole cast feels just right here (a rare occurrence for Fuller), but Thelma Ritter all but steals the pic as a police snitch who sells tacky ties & criminal characters as insurance against a permanent plot in ‘Potter’s Field.’ There’s a dandy (and remarkably tough) series of violent collisions in the last act, but Widmark’s turn as Orpheus on the East River provides the heartfelt climax to the pic. (And what a lovely two-shot Fuller uses for Ritter & Widmark at a lunch-counter rendezvous.) Fuller acolytes will always opt for one of his more extreme films, but first-timers (and nonbelievers) will find no better entry point.

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