Pickup on South Street card

Pickup on South Street (1953); directed by Sam Fuller; screenplay by Sam Fuller; story by Dwight Taylor

Sam Fuller’s Pickup on South Street is classic noir: lowlifes as protagnonists, motivations always questionable. However, these lowlifes live by their own code, built on its own variation on morality, spelled out early on by Thelma Ritter as a police informant. Ritter plays a key character here, and my favorite of her performances: she’s wry, sly, desperate, and doomed in every scene. Richard Widmark is as always fantastic in the tough-guy role, which I might call the homme-fatal, since he’s actually the one in the unpredictable double-crosser role. Conversely, Jean Peters (catch her in Niagara with Marilyn Monroe!) as the duped floozy is the character the audience can best follow, making this an interesting flip-flop of the genre’s usual sex roles.

The waterfront shack, where it all goes down in shadows.

The waterfront shack, where it all goes down in shadows.

Fuller makes great use of sets, especially the waterfront shack inhabited by Widmark, a dim, tiny space thrusting various conflicting characters into each other’s faces, quickly leading to punches or kisses, sometimes both!

I was slightly disappointed by the ending, perhaps because redemption in noir is a hard pill for me to swallow and perhaps because I found the characters forging their way in a world of grit and hardship almost entirely divorced from the mainstream to be more compelling, but it’s nice to think that even a career criminal might get a happy ending now and again.

Thelma Ritter and Richard Widmark bring burning life into two shambling lowlifes.

Thelma Ritter and Richard Widmark bring burning life into two shambling lowlifes.