Film Review: Pickup On South Street (1953)

Also known as: Pickpocket, Blaze of Glory (working titles)
Release Date: May 27th, 1953 (Boston and Philadelphia)
Directed by: Samuel Fuller
Written by: Samuel Fuller, Dwight Taylor
Music by: Leigh Harline
Cast: Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter

20th Century Fox, 80 Minutes

Review:

“I know you pinched me three times and got me convicted three times and made me a three time loser. And I know you took an oath to put me away for life. Well you’re trying awful hard with all this patriotic eye-wash, but get this: I didn’t grift that film and you can’t prove I did! And if I said I did, you’d slap that fourth rap across my teeth no matter what promises you made!” – Skip McCoy

For those that don’t know, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI had an interesting working relationship with 20th Century Fox. Hoover allowed the studio access to investigations and files and thought that allowing some “transparency” through a Hollywood lens would make the public more supportive of the FBI under Hoover.

However, this film is what ended that relationship, as Hoover wanted it changed due to what he felt wasn’t a complete condemnation of communism. The studio stuck by writer/director Samuel Fuller and this film was released, unaltered.

Hoover was upset because this has a plot that involves Richard Widmark’s character being involved with passing off a piece of secret film to those bastard Reds. Widmark’s character, regardless of the communist involvement in the plot, seemed unfazed as to who his employer was. And he never really shows any remorse for the communists’ plot that he was a part of and certainly doesn’t have a moment of reflection where he turns over a new leaf. Apparently, this infuriated Hoover but it does seem more genuine and leaving the story as is, was probably for the better, regardless of the political climate of the time. Plus, it makes for an interesting tale that is larger than the movie itself and has thus, elevated this motion picture’s importance in a time when film-noir movies were a dime a dozen and most have been forgotten.

But regardless of all that, this is still a superb noir, carried by the solid perfromance by Widmark, as well as Jean Peters, his gal, and the always stupendous Thelma Ritter.

For the time, Ritter has a death scene here that is really damn dark and makes your heart sink. While I’m a fan of just about everything in this picture, it’s this scene where you really see the great talent of Ritter, as well as the greatness of Samuel Fuller, who picked the music and shot the scene, using fabulous camera work, lighting and cinematography. Granted, he had help in the cinematography department by Joseph MacDonald, who also worked on Panic In the Streets, Niagara, Hell and High Water, The Young Lions, Pepe and The Sand Pebbles.

The story is also engaging and the threats in this feel genuine and real. Despite Hoover’s concerns, this certainly doesn’t paint the Reds in a positive light.

I also have to give props to Jean Peters for how physical she had to get with this role. I’m not sure if they used a double or not and I don’t think that they did, but when she literally gets the crap kicked out of her in her own apartment, it’s absolutely brutal for 1953 standards. Hell, it’s hard to watch for 2019 standards where movie audiences see some pretty violent stuff on a regular basis.

Pickup On South Street will probably always be a footnote in Hollywood history. However, it deserves its recognition in spite of its controversy. It’s a solid picture, lifted up by its players, its director and its cinematographer.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other film-noirs: Night and the City, Gun Crazy, Kiss Me Deadly, Where the Sidewalk Ends and Naked City.

Film Review: Rear Window (1954)

Release Date: September 1st, 1954
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: John Michael Hayes
Based on: It Had to Be Murder by Cornell Woolrich
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr, Kathryn Grant (uncredited)

Patron Inc., Paramount Pictures, 112 Minutes

rear_windowReview:

Even though I have been a pretty big film buff for my entire life, I honestly didn’t see this Alfred Hitchcock classic until recently. In my high school film studies class, back in the 90s, we watched a bunch of Hitchcock stuff. This one was not on the docket however and I almost wish I could go back and ask my teacher “why?”

Rear Window is legitimately a masterpiece. That isn’t a word I can easily throw around. While I love The Birds and Psycho is pretty flawless, Rear Window is a motion picture on a level that very few have ever reached. I consider Hitchcock to be the “best of the best” alongside Kubrick, Leone and Kurosawa. And this is possibly his magnum opus. Granted, there are a few Hitchcock films I need to rewatch.

James Stewart may be the greatest actor that ever lived and very few women have ever been as classically beautiful as Grace Kelly, which is probably why she married into royalty. Not to mention, that she was a damn good actress, in her own right. But the thing that stands shoulders above these two legends’ talent, is their chemistry together. It is hard not to fall in love with both characters but especially, the two of them together. I really hope that they lived happily ever after but based off of how Jeff’s (Stewart) feelings and respect grows for Lisa (Kelly), I’m sure they did.

But this isn’t a love story, it is a mystery and a thriller.

Rear Window uses a single gigantic set. The movie is predominantly set in the apartment of Stewart’s Jeff, as he sits near his rear window looking out into a courtyard that ties several apartment buildings together. The fact that this almost two hour movie can be so intense and engaging, moment to moment, from the view of a man in his wheelchair staring out a window is quite remarkable. There have been many other films that have used a single set but none have ever been this effective.

To give a brief rundown of the story, we start with Jeff in a wheelchair, sitting in his apartment during a heatwave. He is a renowned photographer but he broke his leg in an accident while photographing an auto race. On his seventh week of being stuck in his apartment, he’s grown irritable and tiresome of his situation and finds himself watching his neighbors out of his rear window. Across the courtyard there are all sorts of interesting characters. Soon, Jeff is drawn to a married couple where the wife constantly nags the husband. The woman is also an invalid and needs constant care. As the days roll on, Jeff notices the wife missing, the man cleaning a large knife and saw, as well as other suspicious behavior. He alerts his friend, a New York detective. He enlists the help of his girlfriend and his caretaker. It all unfolds into some of the most intense moments in motion picture history.

I have to applaud Raymond Burr’s ability to play the object of Jeff’s voyeurism in a way that really left you questioning whether or not he was normal or evil, up until the very end. His presence, once it needed to be, was damn intimidating. And he did all of this without barely speaking a word throughout the film, until the big finale. The shots of him, sitting in pure darkness with the ember of his cigar pulsating with each puff was brilliance.

Alfred Hitchcock shot one of the greatest films ever made. Okay, he shot several of the greatest films ever made. Rear Window, however, to me, is the one film I can point to and ask any naysayers, “Show me something better than that?” While they may know something that is fairly equal, it is a movie that is damn near impossible to top.

Rating: 10/10