Retro Scene: ‘Pickup on South Street’

Thelma Ritter and Richard Widmark in Samuel Fuller's 'Pickup on South Street'
Thelma Ritter and Richard Widmark in Samuel Fuller's 'Pickup on South Street'

Our new adjunct site, Dallas Film Weekly, will provide “perspective from Flyover Country” on all things film-related. Freely-offered contributions are welcome; please query before submitting. To kick things off, here’s my look at a great picture that screened recently as part of Dallas Morning News film critic Chris Vognar’s Screening Room series, currently focusing on film noir.

The title alone implies a great distance between the movie and the Lone Star State, much less its age. Yet ‘Pickup on South Street’ speaks as much to modern-day viewers in Dallas as it might have to audiences in New York City in 1953.

Writer/director Samuel Fuller’s follow-up to ‘Press Row,’ his sizzling newspaper yarn, was handed to him by Darryl Zanuck, his boss at 20th Century Fox. As Fuller relates in his autobiography, “The Third Face,” Zanuck gave him a script by Dwight Taylor titled ‘Blaze of Glory,’ which Fuller liked: “A woman lawyer falls in love with a criminal she’s defending in a murder trial.” Fuller wanted to “go down a few rungs lower on the ladder of criminality,” and suggested the lead should be a small-time thief. “Zanuck had his doubts,” says Fuller, “but he let me go to work on an original script, fleshing out the main characters and redoing the story my own way.”

In Fuller’s film, Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) is an experienced pickpocket who we meet on a Manhattan subway as he plies his trade with stealth and skill. One of his victims is a woman who, unbeknown to Skip, is being tailed by FBI agents.

The scene plays out without dialogue, the only sounds emanating from the squeaks and sways of the subway car, cutting between extreme close-ups of Skip, the girl, Skip’s fingers, the FBI, and Skip’s face.

— Read the entire article at Dallas Film Weekly.

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