Richard Widmark RIP (1914–2008)
This film was a rare second viewing for me. Rare these days, that is. I used to rewatch films often, but not so much now.
Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street is a real class act that works on several levels. Despite being a film noir, this was actually made more than a decade after The Maltese Falcon, and this distance has helped Fuller to get a bit post-modern on the genre. There is a humour throughout the picture that you just don't see much of in those earlier noirs. The speed with which Candy falls in love with Skip, for example, is laughable, but you go with it because you know you're going to get paid off in spades later. But not in Sam Spades, because this is Fuller's world, and the detective can never be the guy you root for.
The plot revolves around some pickpocketed microfilm of US governmental secrets that is on its way to being sold to the Commies. Well, it's 1953, folks, and the red threat was all around. But this isn't really the point. The microfilm is the MacGuffin that drives the story. Don't get me wrong -- the story is slight, but what do you expect in 80 mins?
What you should expect is fun and action and the subversive take that Fuller brings to all his pictures. Never one to shy away from the ugly truth, Fuller takes the Bogart-style slaps across women's faces that are so commonplace in noir and shows us the deep bruising and swollen jaws that follow. The wide-angle tracking shot that Fuller uses to shoot the brawl between Candy and her traitor boyfriend Joey is a real eye-opener. It's brief, but in these days of fast cutting and close-ups and half the time not having a clue where you're supposed to be looking, this approach looks as fresh now as it did then. Gritty and real. A true tussle unfolding before you in real time.
Aaahh, you know, I liked this film. It's not a great film, as I said, in terms of story, but it's a simple tale brilliantly told and expertly made. If you're not familiar with Fuller's work, pour yourself a Scotch on the rocks, get your best dame beside you, and check this out. Shit, even if you like Fuller and you know this film well, why not pour yourself a Scotch on the rocks, get your best dame beside you, and check this out again?
What's the scores on the doors, then? I'll give it 72 points.