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Pickup on South Street (1953)


Filmgoddess
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1953. Directed by Samuel Fuller.

Starring Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter, Richard Kiley.

 

Just watched this again after a few years and despite the unfortunate ending (too happy, by a mile) it once again knocked me out. It also confirmed two things I firmly believe.

 

1. Richard Widmark is one of the most underrated of the Golden Age actors.

2. Thelma Ritter richly deserved the Oscar that year and Donna Reed's win is inexplicable.

 

In a lot of ways, Ritter steals the picture. Almost. It is the best role of her career. A career that saw many terrific performances in 20 years. Her death scene is simply stunning. Brilliant piece of acting. She is SO tired and welcomes death. It leaves me stunned everytime.

 

The film has been much discussed so just a couple other points. Richard Kiley. Those who know him from his later roles on Broadway and on TV as a rather re-assuring pater familias will be shocked by his turn here. Rarely -- especially in 1953 -- was a killed portrayed so vividly and with such violence. He's chilling.

 

This is an almost great film (as I said, the ending just doesn't work for me) and Widmark, as always, delivers, in a way that I'm not sure the film industry ever quite understood. He never won an award but he was always solid and often so much more.

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Yes, yes, and yes.

(- its only flaw is the happy ending)

(- Richard Widmark is fantastic; why is he so under-rated?)

(- Thelma Ritter: amazing performance, so touching, so unpretentious yet somehow noble, especially that death scene.)

 

*Pickup on South Street* is one of my very favourite noirs. In fact, it's one of my favourite movies, period. I love all the performances here ( reasons for which Filmgoddess has already described), the great atmospheric on-location sets, that seedy, strange dock-side shack Widmark calls home, all the talk about "Commies", and the chemistry between Jean Peters and Richard Widmark. One of the sexiest scenes on film, ever, that first kiss between them.

 

If only old Skip had been killed in the end- it would have been so much more noirish, and Candy would have had nothing but sweet memories of him ( instead of the banality of a 50s marriage.)

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I don't want to get into the "is it or isn't a noir" argument -- I think my thoughts are well known. Noir is a VERY narrow group of films and the constant need to widen that group leaves me cold.

 

PICKUP is not a pure noir to me because of the ending. Noir simply can't have a sunny, upbeat, happy ending. It's just not pure noir. That's where the film goes down to me.

 

But I agree with MissWonderly on all the points she made.

 

Donna Reed over Thelma Ritter? No way.

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I agree it is almost a great film, and is not the perfect noir by today's standards or even the standards that should be today's. *Night and the City* is probably a better example of Widmark at his best or even that nutty character he made in *Kiss of Death*. I like those two over this movie but this one is still right up there and you can't go wrong watching it.

 

So maybe Pickup should be called Noir Lite as it does have a happier ending.

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> {quote:title=misswonderly wrote:}{quote}

> (- Richard Widmark is fantastic; why is he so under-rated?)

 

 

Yes, I like Richard Widmark too. And you may remember, Miss Wonderly, the TVO "Saturday Night at the Movies" double-bill featuring Widmark in "Kiss of Death" followed by "Panic in the Streets" with interviews with Widmark about those films in the break between the two movies. It was re-run a few times so I've seen those two great films many times.

 

Actually, one of the interviews is on YT. Interviewer is "Saturday Night at the Movies" host Elwy Yost.

And this is what Elwy did. He and a film crew went to Hollywood and they interviewed the stars, directors, etc., about the movies they were in.

Elwy Yost passed away in 2011 and is dearly missed by film lovers in Ontario, Canada.

 

Anyway, the interview with Widmark is here, talking about director Elia Kazan and "Panic in the Streets" (interview was done in 1980):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiBSZewlP7o

 

P.S. And I still remember as a kid watching Widmark in his TV series "Madigan," based on the character in the 1968 film of the same name. And I also remember that turkey in 1969 he starred in titled "A Talent for Loving." Anybody remember that one?

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> 2. Thelma Ritter richly deserved the Oscar that year and Donna Reed's win is inexplicable.

 

I think you're being a bit harsh on Reed. (Although I think *From Here to Eternity* is one of the more underrated movies: it didn't make the AFI Top 100 list in 2009.)

 

The other actress who gave an Oscar-worthy performance that year was Gloria Grahame, who was much better in *The Big Heat* than in her relatively small role in *The Bad and the Beautiful* wthat actually got her the Oscar.

 

As for Ritter, my favorite performance of hers is in *The Mating Season*, where she totally steals the picture.

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{font:Times New Roman}I also loved her in *Move Over, Darling* and *How the West Was Won.*{font}

 

 

{font:Times New Roman}Her final scene in that movie showed her feminine side. She is sitting at a table on the riverboat listening to Debbie Reynolds/Lilith sing when Joe Sawyer as the Captain joins her. She senses a “catch” and remembering how Gregory Peck/Cleve praised her hair trying to get to Lilith-she fell for it-starts fidgeting with it. You hope she gets a guy for once and gets some appreciation.{font}

 

 

{font:Times New Roman}I just thought of *All About Eve* and *With a Song In My Heart* too. It’s outrageous that she never won an Oscar. *Pickup* always leaves me in a puddle of tears when she gets it; I think it’s her most memorable role. She deserves a "What a Character" spot. {font}

 

 

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> {quote:title=MovieMadness wrote:}{quote}I agree it is almost a great film, and is not the perfect noir by today's standards or even the standards that should be today's. *Night and the City* is probably a better example of Widmark at his best or even that nutty character he made in *Kiss of Death*. I like those two over this movie but this one is still right up there and you can't go wrong watching it.

>

> So maybe Pickup should be called Noir Lite as it does have a happier ending.

>

No question, *Pickup on South Street* would have been a stronger, even better film - and definitely more film noirish - if it had had Skip die in tht final struggle with the Commie.Sometimes that kind of ending really is more satisfying than a happy one. I don't know why Fuller did this, as he is not really given to happy endings in general. Maybe Howard Hughes had something to do with it, since Jean Peters was his protege ( to use a polite word) at the time, and perhaps he didn't want her character to go back to walking the streets ( or riding the subways.) Maybe that's far-fetched, je ne sais pas.

 

I do not agree that *Kiss of Death* and *Night and the City* are better noirs ( except yeah, for that happy ending) , and they're certainly not better examples of Widmark's talent. Although everyone enjoys and remembers his intense performance as the nutso Tommy Udo in *Kiss of Death*, it's not exactly a three-dimensional character he plays in that. Ya gotta love it, for sure, but it shows only one facet of Widmark's ability.

 

 

"In my humble opinion", *Night and the City* is-wait for it - over-rated. Yes, of course I like it, Widmark's always worth watching, Goggie Withers ( what a name) is fun in this, poor old Gene Tierney kind of gets short shrift, but when she's there, she adds to the film. Love the seedy underworld settings, the shacks by the Thames, the peculiar world of professional ( or is it amateur?) wrestling...I could go on. Don't get me wrong, I like *Night and the City* very much. I just think that it, along with *Out of the Past*, ( horrors, what am I saying? !) is too often cited as the ultimate noir. Neither of those illustrious films are quite as fabulous as their reputations would have them.

 

 

Back to Widmark: his character in *NIght and the City* is far more developed and realistic than the one he played in *Kiss of Death,* but it's not as unusual or complicated as Skip McCoy's in *Pickup*.

Pretty soon someone's going to bring up *Panic in the Streets*; it shows Widmark's versatility that around the same time he was playing those other characters, he also played a decent and respectable man, a family man, a doctor with a conscience.

So yeah, just the above paragraphs outline a little of what made him so special as an actor.

 

 

But for me, his piece de resistance is his work in *Pickup on South Street*. Skip was a complex character, neither "good" nor "bad". He was a small-time crook, but he had a kind of personal moral code ( actually, everyone has a "personal" moral code. Let's hope. )

Look at how he arranged for poor old Moe to be buried in the "proper "cemetary, even going to the point of intercepting the boat on its way to Pauper's Island ( or whatever it was called.)

The way he talks back to authority figures of all kinds, his cleverness in how he lives in that coastal shack, his independence, and -this is the part I like - his erotic relationship with Candy, are all delightful examples of Richard Widmark's talent in making a problematic character both fascinating and real.

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> The other actress who gave an Oscar-worthy performance that year was Gloria Grahame, who was much better in The Big Heat than in her relatively small role in The Bad and the Beautiful that actually got her the Oscar.

 

Actually Grahame won the Best Supporting Acting Oscar in 1952 for her role in The Bad and the Beautiful. Not 1953. You are right in stating that she was much better in The Big Heat opposite Glenn Ford. Grahame should have been nominated for Best Actress for The Big Heat in 1953.

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I have to get back to viewing these threads more often. Talking here about two of my favorite movie subjects; Richard Widmark (fav "bad guy") and one of his best films *Pickup On South Street* , which is one of Jean Peters best films too. I believe they both enjoyed making the film and working together. Somewhere I read that Widmark (who liked to work fast, quick rehearse, do the scene, move on) liked that "Prompt Pete" was always well prepared and on time to do the shot. The complete opposite of Marilyn Monroe; Widmark liked Marilyn and helped her out a lot on *Don't Bother To Knock* , but probably wouldn't have wanted to work with her again. Back to Widmark, I think he was always a fascinating actor who put a little something extra into his work. That's why he was such a great villain, or an anti-hero like Skip McCoy. The little interview with him talking about Kazan is great, just for seeing Widmark as himself and talking. He was always "shy" about interviews and did few of them. I always thought he would have been great on the Carson Tonight show, he seemed to be a lot like Johnny and Carson could have gotten Widmark to open up in an interview. Maybe Widmark would have enjoyed it enough to be a "regular" guest like Jimmy Stewart. I have long wanted to see the *Madigan * tv movies again, they got a lot of praise when they first aired and Widmark was offered a second season but he declined. Richard Widmark is always a worthy candidate for a SUTS day or even a whole month tribute. Misswonderly, how about a "Joel McCrea" type campaign for Mr Widmark? ;)

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> {quote:title=mrroberts wrote:}{quote}

>

> The little interview with him talking about Kazan is great, just for seeing Widmark as himself and talking.

 

 

 

 

That was just a 2 minute and change part of a longer interview. All I could find on YT.

 

In other parts of the same interview, Widmark talks about his character Tommy Udo in "Kiss of Death" and he talks about the scene where he pushes the lady down the stairs.

 

The late Elwy Yost was a very knowledgeable film person. And it was amazing how he could show up in Hollywood with a film crew - just some guy from Canada, basically - and then have these amazing interviews with Hollywood stars and directors and film crew and film critics, you name it.

 

 

The "Saturday Night at the Movies" and TVO website has another part of the interview with Richard Widmark where he talks about working with John Ford (at the 3:45 mark of the interview, followed by Jimmy Stewart and then Widmark again at the 10:00 mark):

http://archive.tvo.org/video/165125/portrait-john-ford-part-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

> {quote:title=mrroberts wrote:}{quote} I have long wanted to see the *Madigan * tv movies again, they got a lot of praise when they first aired and Widmark was offered a second season but he declined. Richard Widmark is always a worthy candidate for a SUTS day or even a whole month tribute. Misswonderly, how about a "Joel McCrea" type campaign for Mr Widmark? ;)

 

 

The TV series was based on the 1968 film also with Widmark:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madigan

 

I'd also support something being done for Widmark...

 

 

And I'll ask again, anybody remember "A Talent for Loving"?

(It was a silly movie and Wiki doesn't even have an article about it...)

 

Edited by: RMeingast on Sep 25, 2012 1:12 PM

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I think in *Kiss of death* and *Night and the City* Widmark ends up dead so even by the lowest standards the ending in *Pickup* is not a more noir ending. Without a deeper noir ending how can it be a greater noir than those two?

 

Widmark in *Night and the City* is Widmark in *Pickup* on steroids and uppers. He is much more desperate to make it, nervous and frazzled at his chances and then equally at his demise. He is a dead man once the deal falls through and he knows it, much more of a desperate situation and much more noir than what *Pickup* has.

 

 

One thing about Mary in *Night and the City* is she is almost a femme fatale as Widmark wants her to take the reward money and he would die for her. As it is he dies anyway but he even has an angle on his death. Almost every character in that movie is a crook of some sort and would stab each other to get what they want. They all play each other and I think every main character in that movie loses something. That is why is is close to being the ultimate noir, *Pickup* you can't say that. It also has much better noir lighting to where the fat guy looks extra big and contorted.

 

 

*Out of the Past* I agree with you, so see we can agree sometimes, lol. This discussion really gets to the heart of what a noir movie is though, and sadly too many these days are passed off as noir when they are less than noir. That doesn't make them bad movies, only they should not be called what they are not, it cheapens it for the real movies that are noirs, the ones that used special lighting and storylines to make the movie into something that is darkish and not for everyone. Noir to me is almost like horror is, not everyone will like it so that is a good thing.

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And I'll ask again, anybody remember "A Talent for Loving"?

 

I saw that one many years ago and luckily I've forgotten most of it. Well almost everything, Fran Jeffries was a treat for the eyes.

 

How in the era of free love and flower power, a sex farce set in the west with a 55 year old lead ever got a green light just goes to show that someone was smoking some really good stuff. But I doubt that a few joints would make the film any better.

 

This one made Widmark's Viking movie look like a genuine classic.

 

 

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> {quote:title=clore wrote:}{quote}And I'll ask again, anybody remember "A Talent for Loving"?

>

> I saw that one many years ago and luckily I've forgotten most of it. Well almost everything, Fran Jeffries was a treat for the eyes.

>

> How in the era of free love and flower power, a sex farce set in the west with a 55 year old lead ever got a green light just goes to show that someone was smoking some really good stuff. But I doubt that a few joints would make the film any better.

>

> This one made Widmark's Viking movie look like a genuine classic.

 

 

Yes, it was so bad that Wiki doesn`t even have an article about it...

Oh well... Most actors are in a turkey or two in their careers...

 

P.S. My `Thanksgiving Turkey` post title is more relevant to Canadians as we have our Thanksgiving October 8 this year (second Monday in October is always Thanksgiving Day in Canadaland).

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Well, I certainly don't want to get into an argument about who should be Star of the Month next. And it seems to me that people were advocating for William Warren ( I can't help it, he has a reversible name, it's fun to reverse it sometimes) before any talk about Richard Widmark having the honour.

 

"That said", I will confess that, "classic" film fan though I may call myself, I am not very familiar with W.W. and in fact never heard of him until I read him mentioned on these boards. That is, I suppose, not a very flattering reflection on myself and my movie knowledge, but I've never been the biggest fan of the 30s era ( of course there are many exceptions ...).

 

By all means, Warren William/William Warren first; but shirley Richard Widmark is a better ( oops, now I'm in for it ) cancel that....surely Widmark is a more versatile actor, who appeared in a wider variety of films and played a greater diversity of roles.

Maybe I'm wrong- it's always annoying for people to sound off their opinions when theyr'e not even very knowledgable about the subject. So, yes, I should check out more of W.W.'s work before blathering like this.

And perhaps it doesn't even make any sense to compare the two. They were very different, and their respective films were made in different times from each other.

 

But if "push comes to shove", I will maintain that it's my belief that Widmark would come out on top, as the better and more interesting actor.

Although he didn't have a reversible name.

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