Pickup on South Street

Saw Sam Fuller's Pickup on South Street again, and it still holds up, from the tense opening sequence in the subway car (Fuller's journalism training taught him to grab you from start) to the long takes where various lowlife characters--pickpockets (called 'cannons' here, the language is wonderfully precise), informers, 'muffins' and Commie spies argue with each other and reveal themselves to each other and struggle with each other's wants and needs. 

Wondered about Skip (Richard Widmark), and the ease with which he seems to best the police, the Communists and the US government, then it hit me: he's not dealing with very high-ranking people, either in the government or in the espionage ring; in effect, they're all small-timers trying to grift each other.

The DVD has all kinds of revealing comments, from Fuller telling us why he likes constructed sets (he likes the control it gives him), to his revealing that Jean Peters' phone booth scene was shot partially blind (there wasn't room enough between the booth and the wall for the camera operator), to Widmark's remark that he swung from his shack to the dock drunk on several martinis, and nearly fell into the water.

It's terrific; I doubt if Widmark ever got a more complexly sympathetic role, a kind of street samurai with hands for weapons and a tarnished (and yet all the more important because of its tarnish) code of honor to follow; I doubt if Thelma Ritter got a better role, as the informer who, despite everything, loves Skip even if she did sell him for $38.50--as Skip himself says it, "she's gotta eat."

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