Pickup on South Street

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Synopsis

Petty crook Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) has his eyes fixed on the big score. When the cocky three-time convict picks the pocketbook of unsuspecting Candy (Jean Peters), he finds a more spectacular haul than he could have imagined: a strip of microfilm bearing confidential U.S. information. Tailed by manipulative Feds and the unwitting courier’s Communist puppeteers, Skip and Candy find themselves in a precarious gambit that pits greed against redemption, right against Red, and passion against self-preservation. With its dazzling cast and writer-director Samuel Fuller’s signature hard-boiled repartee and raw energy, Pickup on South Street is a true film noir classic by one of America’s most passionate cinematic craftspeople.

Picture 8/10

The Criterion Collection upgrades their previous DVD edition for Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street to Blu-ray, presenting the film on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode is sourced from a "new" 4K restoration scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.

I haven’t seen the edition firsthand so I can't compare but I assume Criterion is utilizing the same restoration used for the UK Masters of Cinema Blu-ray release. Whatever the case this is a sharp looking presentation in the end. Detail is greatly improved upon over the DVD edition, so much so you feel as though you can make out every fine thread and every strand of hair that appears in the film. Film grain is rendered cleanly, remaining natural throughout, and I didn’t notice any digital artifacts ever popping up, leading to a wonderful film texture for the image. The restoration has also been incredibly thorough, some of the minor marks that remained on the DVD's presentation now all gone.

Contrast and grayscale are nice as well, and the shadows in the film look fine enough, but the image is rather dark, the blacks swallowing up a lot of the background in night scenes. This ends up taking some of the shadow details with it. It’s still not too far off from the DVD mind you, but I still think it’s a bit darker in some respects.

Past that realtively minor concern I felt we still get a sharp looking upgrade, a clear and drastic improvement over the still-not-too-shabby DVD presentation.

Audio 6/10

The lossless PCM 1.0 monaural soundtrack sounds sharp with minor range, though the music can get a little edgy during the higher moments. Dialogue sounds clean and sharp and damage isn’t a problem.

Extras 7/10

Other than a couple of interesting galleries, Criterion ports all of the material from their old DVD edition over, adding on some new material with it. The first new feature is a 36-minute interview with Criterion’s go-to critic for all things noir and noir-adjacent, Imogen Sara Smith. Smith provides one of her usual studies and overviews, covering the film’s production in great depth and touching on the book it was "based" on (Fuller pretty much threw it all out), sharing some stories about casting along the way. She then talks about the aspects of the film that stick out, particularly for the time, and offers a bit of a breakdown on the film’s climax. Though I think a commentary from her would have been called for (she did a great one for Indicator’s release for the noir film Framed) this is still another one of her excellent contributions and I like that they keep pulling her in for these titles.

Also new to this edition is a 1954 radio adaptation of the film, featuring Stephen McNally and Terry Moore in the Skip and Candy roles respectively, and then Thelma Ritter reprising her role as Moe. Running 58-minutes it sticks fairly close to the source material, even keeping some of the same dialogue, but the controversial-at-the-time line “don’t wave the flag at me” line has been changed to a less incendiary “are you waving the flag at me?” But like all radio adaptations it relies on explaining an awful lot and the story is told from the perspective of the FBI agent, who has to constantly stop to explain the setting, including how Skip hides his loot. The audio fades in and out at times, either due to a bad recording or issues with the materials, but it’s still a fun little inclusion. The audio plays over a static graphic of a microphone.

Everything else has been ported from the old DVD. There are two features around Fuller, including a 19-minute interview with him from 1989, recorded by critic Richard Shickel, and then an 11-minute excerpt from a 1982 episode of the French television program Cinéma cinemas featuring the director. The 19-minute interview is a blast, Fuller, cigar in hand, explaining his craft, including his rules (like “show it!”) before recounting his working relationship with Zanuck, who he loved working with. He then talks about the film, how pickpockets interested him (he saw them as artists) and mentions some of the controversies that came up around the film, like the “don’t wave the flag at me” line, which was supposed to have a "damn" in there initially.

In that interview he also talks about shooting a climatic fight scene, and from his description you can see how the gears worked in his head when planning a sequence and the respective shots. The Cinéma cinemas excerpt gets more into his planning and editing techniques, Fuller sitting at an editing rig, going through the opening sequence of the film and explaining the visuals and rhythms. It’s only 11-minutes long in the end but it’s very energetic and Fuller has this beautiful of way of describing his thought processes behind every shot and cut.

Criterion then includes a collection of trailers for Fuller’s films, including one for Pickup on South Street. They then port over their booklet from their DVD edition, which contains an essay on the film by Luc Sante, followed by a wonderful introduction director Martin Scorsese wrote for Fuller’s posthumously published 2002 book A Third Face, Scorsese explaining his love for the man’s work. The booklet then contains the last chapter from the book, which covers a little around the production of Pickup on South Street. It has Fuller sharing a number of stories, like when Marilyn Monroe visited the set (he had her read for the role of Candy but realized she was entirely wrong for the role).

Again, galleries are missing (I still don’t entirely understand why Criterion is usually hesitant to port these types of features over from DVDs), but they’ve still packed on some great material, the Smith and Fuller interviews being the stand outs.

Closing

A real sharp looking upgrade featuring a nice, small collection of features that are well worth the time going through. Worth picking up even if you own the previous DVD edition.

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Directed by: Samuel Fuller
Year: 1953
Time: 80 min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 224
Licensor: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: June 29 2021
MSRP: $39.95
 
Blu-ray
1 Disc | BD-50
1.33:1 ratio
English 1.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Region A
 
 New interview with critic Imogen Sara Smith, author of In Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City   Interview from 1989 with director Samuel Fuller, conducted by film critic Richard Schickel   Cinéma cinémas: Fuller, a 1982 French television program in which the director discusses the making of the film   Trailer   Trailers for other Fuller features   Hollywood Radio Theater adaptation of the film from 1954, starring Thelma Ritter   Essays by author and critic Luc Sante and filmmaker Martin Scorsese, and a chapter from Samuel Fuller’s posthumously published 2002 autobiography, A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking