Pickup on South Street (Filmmakers Collection) (1953)

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Released 5-Aug-2007

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Crime Film Noir Featurette-Making Of-French interview with director/writer Sam Fuller (11:04).
Theatrical Trailer-Original theatrical trailer (01:47).
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1953
Running Time 77:05 (Case: 80)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Samuel Fuller
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Richard Widmark
Jean Peters
Thelma Ritter
Murvyn Vye
Richard Kiley
Willis Bouchey
Milburn Stone
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $39.95 Music Leigh Harline : Original score
Ray Dorey/Mack Gordon : "Mam'selle"
Lionel Newman/Dorcas Cochran : "Again"


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

"Sometimes you look for oil, and you hit a gusher."

Coming early in the career of director Samuel Fuller, Pickup on South Street is a strong crime melodrama. Film noir has been described as a genre in which tin-pot crimes are merely the outer manifestations of the churning unconscious. That description aptly fits this pulsatingly complex film, so ostensibly simple in its narrative seething with complicated human emotions.

In the film's opening we see a subway train charging through a tunnel. We dissolve to a close-up of a female face, too much make-up, and just a little shiny from the heat in the crowded New York subway carriage. This trashily attractive young woman is Candy (Jean Peters), and the camera observes that two other male passengers on the train are also watching her, very closely. The train makes a stop, doors open, passengers jostle on and off and we just catch a glimpse of Richard Widmark's head through the open door. Doors close, the train starts up and pushing his way through the crowded carriage comes Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark), who settles himself beside Candy, and begins "reading" his newspaper. Under the cover of the paper, we see Skip snap Candy's purse open, and his finely manicured fingers probe her purse emerging with a wallet which he swiftly pockets. The train lurches to a stop at the next station, Skip snaps the purse shut, and rushes off the train. The two male observers try too late to catch Skip as he leaves the train, unsure of what they have just seen. These are the opening few minutes of Pickup on South Street, without any dialogue until the two observers speak after Widmark leaves the train.

Candy was the unwitting carrier of vital military information, on her way to do a "drop" for her boyfriend (Richard Kiley), a communist agent. The two observers were FBI agents, tailing Candy ready to pounce at the exchange - the "drop" and the "pickup" - of the microfilmed information. Skip is a petty pickpocket, nothing more, who has lifted more than he bargained for out of Candy's purse. Assisted by police Sergeant Dan Tiger (Murvyn Vye), the FBI agents use the elderly Moe (Thelma Ritter) to establish the identity of the pickpocket. Moe's income comes from selling men's ties, and from selling information to "the cops". She is saving towards her burial, not wanting to end up with a "Potter's Field" pauper's grave. Candy also goes to Moe, herself wanting to track down Skip and get the microfilm back - otherwise boyfriend Joey is in big trouble. Candy tracks Skip to his waterfront shack, bizarre and surreal. Skip attacks his unknown intruder, bashing Candy brutally, but then the sparks begin to fly between them. So we have our major quartet of characters, Skip, Candy, Moe and Joey. On the sidelines are the cops, the FBI and the "Commies". This was the era of "the red scare", and this external threat is used to galvanise the forces of good, the FBI the police and even the petty criminal.

Basing his screenplay on a story by Dwight Taylor, Samuel Fuller concentrates on his major characters with operatic intensity for the short seventy-seven minutes running time. This is not realism, but a heightened reality, a drama of extremes which is liable to explode out of control at any moment. One minute Widmark is punching Jean Peters to the ground, virtually unconscious, and then almost instantly they are in a passionate embrace, Widmark tenderly caressing Peters' bruised cheek. Close-ups are at times so extreme that the faces are distorted, while the original score by Leigh Harline underlines the frenetic energy of the city which surrounds them. Music envelops the characters - wonderful use being made of two songs from earlier Fox movies. Thelma Ritter's character has Mam'selle ( Ray Dorey and Mack Gordon) from The Razor's Edge (1946). In her first scene Miss Ritter actually sings one line of the song, and later unforgettably plays the 78 recording. The passion of Widmark's and Peters' characters is reflected in Again, written by Dorcas Cochran and Lionel Newman for Ida Lupino to sing in Richard Widmark's second movie Road House (1948). These two songs are powerful musical motifs throughout the film.

Performances are perfect, primarily from a trio of Fox contract players. Richard Widmark was a great Hollywood star, whose passing earlier this month should make us pause and appreciate his work from Kiss of Death in 1947 through to True Colors in 1991. Initially typecast as mean and bad, Richard Widmark proved his versatility in numerous fox dramas, westerns and war movies. He had a face which epitomised insolence, and we know just why the cops here want him to go down a three-time-loser. Jean Peters was another Fox contract player, with that studio until her marriage to Howard Hughes brought retirement. Miss Peters was an accomplished actress, playing everything from the Indian woman in Burt Lancaster's Apache, to Peter Marshall's wife in A Man Called Peter. She excelled in the romantic Three Coins in the Fountain and in the same year as Pickup on South Street provided a "nice girl" counterpoint to Marilyn Monroe's trashy Rose in Niagara. Under Fuller's direction Jean Peters proves here that she can trash it with the best. It's a powerful, screen filling performance, in which both Widmark and Kiley really bash her around. There's no double in that scene with Richard Kiley. Who would have thought that Richard Kiley would make Broadway history creating the lead role in Man of La Mancha and to be the first person to sing or record The Impossible Dream?

I have left the best till last. In her supporting role Thelma Ritter is truly unforgettable. Once you've seen this film, the character of "Moe" will stay with you forever. Thelma Ritter was never a "star" although her popularity with audiences lead to above the title billing, as is the case here. She was a true "supporting" actress, who never won an Oscar - although she was nominated six times, the nomination for Pickup on South Street being her fourth nomination in four years. Wonderful in All About Eve and With a Song in my heart, this is probably her best performance.


Pickup on South Street comes at the end of the "square screen" era. The year of its production was the year in which Fox made the switch to CinemaScope, all Fox product to be made in the new anamorphic process. The photography of Joe MacDonald is a reminder how powerful the black and white, square screen image could be, particularly when the director is as exciting as Samuel Fuller. This is a great, "must see" movie.

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Transfer Quality

Video

This is a brilliant black and white transfer of the film. I cannot imagine a black and white film looking better, regardless of age.
This issue appears to use the same high definition digital master as the Region 1 Criterion release, with "restored image and sound".

The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, originally presented at 1.37:1. There is no enhancement.
The transfer is brilliantly sharp - except when Fuller intentionally has Jean Peters out of focus in one love scene.
Look at any scene from the film and the clarity is astonishing. In the opening subway scene facial fuzz is very clear on Jean Peters, while Widmark's blonde stubble is beginning to show.
Shadow detail is remarkable, the frequent night shots having great richness and depth.
There is no low level noise.
The grey scale is glorious. Blacks are solid and deep, whites do not flare and the detail is almost distracting.
There were no MPEG artefacts. I searched for aliasing, but could find none - not even on Venetians.
There was a total absence of film artefacts.
This is one of the best black and white transfers that I have ever seen on DVD.

There are no subtitles.

There is no layer change within the movie.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

There is only one audio track on the movie, Dolby Digital Mono at 192 Kbps.
The soundtrack is very clean, with no background noise, crackle, pops or drop outs.

Dialogue was perfectly clear and every syllable crystal clear. There were no sync problems.
Ambient sounds of the city were very realistic for the period in which this movie was made.

The original score by Leigh Harline was very clearly reproduced., with sharp and clear sound.
This is an excellent mono soundtrack.



Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

The extras are limited to one featurette and a trailer. These appear to have been taken from the Region 1 Criterion release which, as you would expect, was loaded with extras.

Menu

The Main Menu is 4x3 displayed over artwork of Jean Peters, with Leigh Harline's theme from the film in Dolby Digital 2.0 - with sound effects as well.
The Main Menu options are : Play Feature
Select Scene : Two screens, ten scenes per screen. Plain graphics with no sound.
Explore Extras: : See details below.

Featurette: Cinema Cinemas : Fuller : (11.04)
This is a very interesting French documentary presented 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. The interview is in English, with French subtitles. Originally longer and more comprehensive, what we have here specifically relates to the creation of Pickup on South Street. It is fascinating to see Fuller himself discuss his film. I would never have thought that the street exteriors were shot in Los Angeles, doubling for New York.

Theatrical Trailer : (01:39)
Nowhere near the quality of the film itself, but not bad. Presented 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The Region 1 Criterion Collection edition has a number of excellent Special Features, in addition to the Cinema Cinemas featurette included on the Region 4 release.These are :
* Video interview of Sam Fuller by critic Richard Schickel.
* Illustrated biographical essay on Fuller.
* Complete Fuller poster filmography.
* Stills galleries of photos, lobby cards and original paintings.
* Trailers for eight Sam Fuller films.
* 20 page booklet with excerpts from Fuller's autobiography, article by Martin Scorsese, plus new essay.
* English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired.
* Optimal image quality : RSDL dual-layer edition.

The Region 2 release by Optimum Home Entertainment is virtually barebones, with a few trailers, but not one for Pickup on South Street.

The Region 4 release is certainly good value, being part of a four disc/movie set. The single disc is also available separately from Umbrella Entertainment (RRP $19.99).For great admirers of the film, the Region 1 Criterion disc with its extras might be the choice.

Summary

This is a flashy, blatantly crude and at times preposterous film, which is also a great piece of cinematic art. Enjoy it for the reckless seventy-seven minutes of intense melodrama, but even the most casual viewer has to be aware that it is much more than that. To top it all off, Pickup on South Street has never looked better. This is a terrific film.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo-SP500, using Component output
DisplayPhilips Plasma 42FD9954/69c. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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