Pickup on South Street (1953)

Pickup on South Street (1953)

Opening Statement

 

A spy, a hooker & a pickpocket walk into a police station…

 

Review

 

Skip McCoy is a cannon, a pickpocket who works the crowds in busy New York city. While pursuing his usual line of criminal work, he steals some items from a woman’s purse. Little does he know that the woman is a courier for a communist spy ring and he just stole a piece of microfilm that they will do almost anything to get back. Also interested are the G-Men looking to arrest said spies. Both parties suspect he’s involved and Skip will have to think fast to get out of this mess. Complicating things are his growing feelings for the girl who was the unwitting courier for the gang.

 

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Skip at work. Moving in.
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He has no idea what kind of dynamite is in that purse.

Pickup on South Street is a 1953 film noir directed by the famously independent Sam Fuller, who was also a crime beat reporter in New York and a combat infantryman in WW2.

 

Fuller’s own experiences give the film a gritty, street level realism that stands out even in the famously gritty film noir genre. All of the characters in this film have agendas, scams and their own motivations that never completely mesh with anyone else’s.

 

Skip, the pickpocket, played by Richard Widmark is just looking to survive in a tough city. he’s already a 2 time felon, one more conviction or even a misdemeanor will send him up state for 20 years. So he’s very uninterested in helping to investigate a group of spies. He starts as an anti-hero at best, at one point snarling “Don’t wave your flag at me” to an FBI agent trying to appeal to his patriotism.

 

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Skip being a smart-ass, as usual.

Candy, the woman he robbed, played by Jean Peters in one of her best roles, thought she was just doing a favor for an ex-boyfriend by dropping off a package. She suspected it was probably something illegal, but she had no idea that she was a courier for an international spy ring. Her attempts to work her charm on Skip to get the film back and his acidic replies, are some of the better parts of the film.The chemistry between the two leads is electric and provides a needed mid-film jolt.

 

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Candy, not happy after being slugged, again, by Skip. If looks could kill.

Another great performance is Thelma Ritter’s character Moe, who earns a living as a professional information broker, ie a stool pigeon. She also serves as a sort of surrogate mother to Skip and provides part of the catalyst that turns him from indifferent crook to spy hunter by the climax of the film.

 

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Moe Knows.

The backstory on the production of Pickup on South Street is almost as interesting as the film itself. Before Jean Peters was cast as Candy, Shelley Winters, Betty Grable and Marylin Monroe were all considered and rejected for various reasons. Betty Grable apparently wanted the role badly, but also wanted a dance number that Sam Fuller thought (correctly IMHO) would destroy the flow and authenticity of the film. Fuller liked Monroe’s acting, but felt her beauty and sex appeal would distract from the rest of the story and wouldn’t be believable. Jean Peters provided the right combination of toughness, street smarts, and sex appeal for the character.

 

Sam Fuller also had multiple battles with the Code censors over the level of violence and overt sexuality in the film. You can tell from the final product that Fuller was able to preserve much of the film’s character. The main changes seem to be an overly optimistic happy ending and some deliberate vagueness in the story about what Candy’s actual profession is (hint: Not a Sunday school teacher). Fortunately these concessions don’t affect the quality of the finished product.

 

The film is one of the most violent I’ve seen from the era, with several brutal murders, beatings and a final fight scene that is spectacularly choreographed and filmed. Fuller’s street experience shows in the portrayal of how tough life on the streets can be for the poor and criminal. You can feel the desperation and sense of vulnerability of many of the characters as they struggle to make it another day.

 

Verdict 4 gavels out of 5 Classic in the film noir genre, with a bit of espionage and romance mixed in to keep things interesting.

New season of Midsomer Murders now live

Hi everyone,

Midsomer Murders is a long running English murder mystery series. The series is set in fictional Midsomer county, a picturesque, quintessentially rural English place. The one issue with the place seems to be a murder rate approximately similar to Fallujah, Iraq (kidding but barely). Every episode features at least one body as the guest of honor and most have 3 or more, all murdered in amazingly creative ways.

Season 18 just went live on Netflix and I will be reviewing the series after I post my review of Pickup On South Street. I’ve been having a few issues getting screen caps off of my blu-ray copy. Blu-rays can be more than a little problematic in that regard. If everything goes well, expect the review tomorrow.

The new Magnificent 7 film

I just saw the new Magnificent 7 film. Overall it wasn’t too bad, typical summer blockbuster fare. Like most remakes/reboots, whatever the studios want to call them nowadays, it’s bigger and louder than the original. The cast is likeable and once the 7 are assembled, the film picks up pace a bit, albeit somewhat unevenly. The story’s villain changes from a bandit criminal gang in the 1960 Magnificent 7, to an amoral gunfighter/robber baron backed up by the local sheriff.

My main issue with the film is why someone thought it was necessary in the first place. Westerns are practically an endangered species in theaters now. Why remake a 56 year legendary film?

Especially since every aspect of the new film will be compared to it’s fore-bearers, the original Magnificent 7 and the equally legendary Kurosawa film Shichinin no samurai (Seven Samurai) the 1960 Magnificent 7 is based on. This where the film runs into problems, it’s good, but not great enough to erase comparisons to it’s predecessors.

The modern edits to the story include a new revenge sub-plot involving Denzel Washington’s character that does little more than confuse the plot. The primary villain is a walking  collection of TV Tropes, shoot the messengerrobber baron and card carrying villain to name a few.

Another issue is the army of villains, who seem to have more in common with a World War 2 Banzai charge than a mercenary band. In the film’s climax, they are shown rushing repeatedly into murderous crossfire, dynamite mines and deadly booby traps with nary a flinch or sign of retreat.

The film gives no motive for this behavior. Fear, greed, misplaced loyalty? The plot gives no sign of anything to justify their continuing to attack as most of their comrades are mowed down in ill advised frontal assaults on the town.

The film also suffers from the typical modern summer blockbuster ailments of overly loud (to the point of clipping out the theater’s speakers) soundtrack and bloated editing. Many scenes go on at least a few beats too long, which quickly adds up and makes the film feel longer than the 1960 Magnificent 7, despite being roughly the same run time. Overall it feels like less is done with the available time.

On the plus side the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, with beautiful panning shots of prairies, forests and mountains.

Overall I’d say it’s probably worth seeing in theaters, especially if you’re a fan of the genre or of one of the actors. The beautiful cinematography and likeable cast rescue it from a muddled plot and sometimes plodding pace. Just don’t expect anything special. Otherwise, wait for the budget showing or for the inevitable video release.

Robert Odierna 2016

100 posts

WordPress just informed me that I’ve hit 100 posts. When I started this blog, it was purely as a hobby and a way to share my love of cinema with the world. I wasn’t even sure it would last 15 posts, let alone 100.

Here’s to another 100 and hopefully more after that.

Robert Odierna 2016

Terry Jones

Sad to hear that comedian Terry Jones has been diagnosed with dementia.

Jones is most famous for his work as part of the Monty Python comedy group. Jones, along with Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, John Cleese and Terry Gilliam were the core members of the group. Jones was heavily involved in the writing of the show and was a major element in it’s success.

The blow is harder with the recent death of Gene Wilder. Many of my favorite performers are getting up in years and this is becoming a too frequent occurrence.

Terry Jones – Daily Mail article

 

Longmire season 5

Longmire season 5

Longmire season 5 just went live on Netflix.

If you’re already a fan, the season so far is the same quality as previous seasons.

If you haven’t seen the series, Longmire is a hybrid show. A modern police drama set in rural Wyoming, it also incorporates elements from classic westerns. The main character is a walking anachronism, an old west style sheriff trying to navigate a modern world of forensics, drugs and modern technology, while keeping true to his sense of honor.

The previous season ended on a spectacular cliffhanger and the new season hits the ground running immediately. The show’s switch from A&E to Netflix seems to have been fairly seamless and if anything, this season looks to be even better than the last 2.

You can read my review of the series here:

Longmire review: 4 Gavels out of 5

 

 

DCI Banks

DCI Banks

Hi everyone,

I just realized that I inadvertently flipped my review order. I was planning to review DCI Banks first.

Review

DCI Banks is a show I’ve just started to watch. A police procedural from our friends across the Atlantic, ITV. DCI Banks is based on author Peter Robinson’s novels. The main protagonist DCI Alan Banks is a study in tenacity. A determined major crimes detective for a Yorkshire police department. What Banks lacks in resources or superhuman insight; he makes up for in sheer determination. Ruthlessly working leads and not afraid to step on toes to get the arrest.

The show starts with the death of a police officer responding to a domestic violence call. His partner brutally beats the killer, Marcus Payne, into a coma. When detectives arrive, they find that they injured man had the bodies of 4 missing women locked in a basement dungeon. DCI Alan Banks is determined to find out if a fifth missing girl is still alive.

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A major side plot in this initial show is the investigation of the officer. Since she beat the suspect into a coma with her police baton, the departments Professional Standards division wants to prosecute her for excessive force.

Making the investigation is DS Annie Cabbot, a very ambitious and aggressive detective.

Unlike shows such as Sherlock, Bones or Poirot; the characters in DCI Banks are not superhuman, they are deeply flawed individuals struggling with their own weaknesses as well as the interpersonal issues that plague any workplace.

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Banks and Cabbot, not exactly best friends at the moment.

This is where DS Annie Cabbot is an interestingly different take on the hero sidekick role. She is rude, abrupt and abrasive. She often clashes with her bosses and definitely has her own agenda. This has made her a deeply controversial character among fans of detective fiction. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I like the difference. While not perfect for every show, it’s refreshing to see this type of character asserting her independence even if she spectacularly messes up on occasion. Naturally Banks and Cabbot clash almost constantly during their initial team up, being more similar than either would care to admit.

The mistakes are a major difference in this show. None of the characters are perfect crime fighting machines, clues are missed, office politics sabotages investigations, critical points are argued over and the show rarely ends in a drawing room reveal. The show also does not flinch away from showing the psychological damages of violent crime on all involved, this becomes a major plot line in the first series.

The villains are mostly your usual mugshot line of violent serial killers, with a few fascinating variations. There are also a few episodes that deal with violent organized crime and human trafficking.

Verdict 3 Gavels out of 5 Despite a few bugs, a pretty good detective show. The extremely flawed characters mark a nice change from the usual super-sleuths of detective fiction. The characters are flawed, human and refreshingly real.

Robert Odierna September 2016