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Samuel Fuller
Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter
Writing Credits:
Samuel Fuller

A pickpocket unwittingly lifts a message destined for enemy agents and becomes a target for a Communist spy ring.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English Dolby Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 80 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 2/17/2004

• “Sam Fuller on Pickup On South Street” Featurette
• “Cinema Cinemas: Fuller” TV Excerpt
• “Headlines and Hollywood” Essay
• “Recollections from Richard Widmark” Text
• Trailers
• Stills & Posters
• Booklet


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Pickup On South Street: Criterion Collection (1953)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 8, 2021)

From writer/director Samuel Fuller, 1953’s Pickup On South Street offers an entry in the film noir genre. This one takes us to New York City and introduces us to a pickpocket named Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark).

On a subway train, Skip lifts a wallet held by a woman named Candy (Jean Peters). Candy used to date Joey (Richard Kiley), and she carried an envelope as a favor to him.

Unbeknownst to Candy, Joey serves as a Communist spy, and the package – now in Skip’s hands – contains stolen US government information. Skip finds himself the target of various agents, and along with Candy, he struggles to survive.

Going into Pickup, I can’t claim I’d seen much of Fuller’s work. Actually, I think 1957’s Forty Guns might represent my only prior acquaintanceship with a Fuller flick, though I may’ve seen 1980’s Big Red One as a kid.

Though it seems to enjoy a good reputation, I admit I didn’t much care for Guns. I tried not to let this dissatisfaction impact my potential view of Pickup, though, so I think I entered with an open mind.

Which worked well, as I found a lot to like about Pickup. Though the film occasionally feels a little like genre self-parody, it does more than enough right to succeed.

Widmark excels at this kind of hard-bitten anti-hero. Although it seems ludicrous to see him as a guy named “Skip”, Widmark adds the right bite and snap to the role.

We also find the ever-reliable Thelma Ritter as a fellow criminal. I don’t know how versatile Ritter was, but she did “the Thelma Ritter Character” so well that I don’t care, and she even adds some pathos to her sad-sack role.

In truth, Pickup lacks a particularly strong plot, as it tends to seem more like a character exploration than anything else. That feels fine with me, as the personalities bring such life and punch that the thin nature of the narrative doesn’t harm the film.

The only area where I think Pickup falters stems from its political leanings. Basically it comes across like a reminder that those Commies suck, and even criminal lowlifes hate them! This aspect of the flick makes it seem a bit dated, and it doesn’t really feel organic.

Nonetheless, I regard this as a minor complaint. Overall, Pickup provides a lively little noir thriller.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus C

Pickup On South Street appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This became a mostly pleasing presentation.

For the most part, sharpness worked fine. Wider shots tended to feel a bit tentative, and some light edge haloes added to that, but for SD-DVD, definition usually seemed appropriate.

Jagged edges and shimmering caused only minor concerns. Print flaws displayed occasional specks and marks but nothing major.

Blacks looked deep and firm. Shadows were smooth and clean, while contrast seemed fairly strong. Overall, this turned into a mostly positive image.

As for the Dolby Digital monaural audio of Pickup, it worked fine for its age. Speech always seemed concise and natural, with no edginess or other distractions.

Music lacked much range but came across as clean and acceptably bold. Effects showed decent heft and also boasted nice clarity, as the track came essentially free from defects. This was a perfectly solid little mix for a movie from 1953.

As we shift to extras, Sam Fuller on Pickup on South Street runs 19 minutes, three seconds. As expected, it brings notes from writer/director Fuller.

He discusses how he perceives the role of the director as well as aspects of Pickup. This never becomes the most insightful piece, but Fuller offers a mix of decent notes.

Cinema Cinemas brings a French TV segment from 1982 that goes for 11 minutes, three seconds. It gives us more thoughts about the creation of Pickup. This piece adds to what we learn from the prior reel.

Next comes Headlines and Hollywood, a text essay from film curator Jeb Brody. “Headlines” offers a biography of Fuller.

The essay mixes text with photos and archival materials. It adds up to a nice overview of Fuller’s life and career.

More text appears under Recollections from Richard Widmark. Here the actor relays notes about his time on Pickup. It seems brief but informative.

Under trailers, we find an ad for Pickup. We also get promos for seven other Fuller films. Note that 1954’s Hell and High Water comes with two trailers.

The disc finishes with Stills and Posters. We find “Stills” (64 images), “Fuller Poster Filmography” (125) and “Illustrations by Russell Christian” (9). This gives us a nice compilation.

Though aspects of its political themes don’t really fly, Pickup On South Street offers enough noir bite to work. With a good cast and a brisk pace, the movie keeps us entertained. The DVD brings adequate picture and audio as well as a handful of bonus materials. Even with some minor flaws, Pickup does pretty well for itself.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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