The journey that is Pickup on South Street (1953) starts on a crowded New York subway. A skilled pickpocket, awesomely named Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) steals a wallet from the purse belonging to Candy (Jean Peters). Neither of them knows it, but the wallet contains top-secret microfilm, that is being passed by Joey (Richard Kiley), a Communist spy and Candy’s ex-boyfriend. What follows is a whirlpool of secrets, espionage, plot twists and, as always, lots and lots of shadows. It is a noir, after all.
Pickup on South Street is simply fantastic. Every aspect of it is remarkable: the screenplay by Samuel Fuller (also the film’s director) is as tight as you can expect from a spy-themed noir and the dialogue is to die for; the cinematography by Joseph MacDonald just screams noir, with shadows popping up everywhere you look and an eerie, gloomy atmosphere floating around. But the best thing about Pickup on South Street are the performances. Richard Widmark is, as always, fantastic. He’s just inherently likable, even when he’s playing an arrogant pickpocket. Jean Peters is equally great as the streetwise but essentially kind-hearted Candy. The two of them have an extraordinary chemistry and they are quite possibly one of my top 5 favorite noir couples. Unlikely most noirs, where you know something’s going to happen and you wish for everyone to get their comeuppance, you actually root for these two to be together. Heck, I was borderline fangirling over them! And then of course, there’s Thelma Ritter, in an Oscar-nominated performance as Moe, a professional informant who knows what’s going on all the time. That familiar Thelma Ritter charm is there, and it’ll warm your heart. After all, who doesn’t love Thelma Ritter?
This is not only one of the best noirs, but it is probably one of the best films of all time, I dare say. Not to mention that Skip McCoy is pretty much the best name ever.