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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 LPCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 80 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 6/29/2021

• “Sam Fuller on Pickup On South Street” Featurette
• “Cinema Cinemas: Fuller” TV Excerpt
Hollywood Radio Theater Adaptation
• Interview with Film Critic Imogen Sara Smith
• Trailers
• Booklet


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Pickup On South Street: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1953)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 21, 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 Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

Pickup On South Street appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a pleasing presentation.

Sharpness worked fine. Some low-light interiors could become a tad soft, but that likely reflected the source, and overall definition seemed appropriate.

Jagged edges and shimmering caused no minor concerns, and edge haloes failed to appear. With natural grain, I suspected no issues with noise reduction, and print flaws remained absent,

Blacks looked deep and firm. Shadows were smooth and clean, while contrast seemed strong. Overall, this turned into an appealing presentation.

As for the LPCM 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.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the Criterion DVD from 2004? The lossless PCM audio here felt a bit warmer than the lossy Dolby track on the DVD, though the limitations of the source restricted room for growth.

Visuals delivered more obvious growth, as the Blu-ray boasted superior delineation, blacks, grain, cleanliness and contrast. While the DVD looked reasonably good, the Blu-ray easily bettered it.

The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras, and we open with Sam Fuller on Pickup on South Street runs 19 minutes, six 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, five seconds. It gives us more thoughts about the creation of Pickup. This piece adds to what we learn from the prior reel.

Under trailers, we find an ad for Pickup. We also get promos for 15 other Fuller films. Note that we find two trailers for 1954’s Hell and High Water.

The remaining disc-based extras are new to this Blu-ray, and a 2021 Interview with Film Critic Imogen Sara Smith goes for 35 minutes, 48 seconds.

Smith discusses aspects of the film as well as interpretation and allusions to other works. Smith offers a nice view of the flick.

From June 21, 1954, we locate a radio adaptation of Pickup. From Hollywood Radio Theater, only Thelma Ritter reprises her film role. Stephen McNally takes over for Richard Widmark, and Terry Moore covers for Jean Peters.

The program spans 52 minutes, 20 seconds and since Ritter offered the biggest “name” in the cast, the program inflates her role somewhat. This seems like a good decision because the rest of the actors offer fairly terrible performances.

Because the film runs a mere 80 minutes, the radio version cuts out less of the plot than usual, which I like. However, the weak acting makes it an iffy adaptation, albeit one I feel happy to hear for historical purposes.

Finally, the package includes a booklet. It presents credits, art, essays from critic Luc Sante and filmmaker Martin Scorsese, and a segment from Samuel Fuller’s autobiography.

Note that the Blu-ray drops a few text features as well as a collection of stills and posters. I don’t know why the BD loses these.

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 Blu-ray brings solid picture and appropriate audio as well as a decent array of bonus materials. Even with some minor flaws, Pickup does pretty well for itself.

To rate this film visit the DVD review of PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET

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