Pickup on South Street (1953)

Richard Widmark and Jean Peters
Richard Widmark and Jean Peters

'Pickup on South Street' is an exciting film noir, made in 1953, directed and written by Samuel Fuller and starring Richard Widmark, Jean Peters and Thelma Ritter. It is unusual for a film noir in that the subject matter relates to Cold War espionage as well as the more usual detectives and seedy underworld figures. Thelma Ritter, as Moe, was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award.


The action takes place in New York and centres round a small time pickpocket or "cannon" called Skip McCoy who inadvertently finds himself in the middle of an espionage tug of war when, on the subway, he takes a wallet from the handbag of Candy, played by Jean Peters. The .wallet contains microfilm with secret government information which Candy was to deliver to her boyfriend, Communist spy Joey, played by Richard Kiley.

The police had been following Candy and they discover the identity and address of the pickpocket from their underworld contacts, namely Moe, played by Thelma Ritter. There is more than a sprinkling of violence in the events which follow, but there is also a love interest as romance develops between Candy and Skip.


The movie's story is based on a story called 'Blaze Of Glory' by playwright and screenwriter, Dwight Taylor. Samuel Fuller liked the basic storyline and adapted and extended it with a heavy political bias.
Several actresses were considered for the key role of Candy including Shelley Winters and Betty Grable. The choice finally was between Jean Peters and Marilyn Monroe. Peters was chosen by director, Sam Fuller as she appeared more street savvy than Monroe. Peters enjoyed shooting the film but did not like playing a sex symbol character and refused to have her hair bleached.
Two versions of the screenplay were rejected due to excessive physical brutality. Even so the finished article contains some jaw-dropping physical violence, particularly perpetrated on Candy in separate scenes by Skip and Joey.
French Release
For its release in France the movie was doctored completely and retitled 'Le Port de la Drogue'. The story was changed and the dialogue dubbed to make the story about drug smugglers, not Communists, in order to avoid giving offence to the French Communist party which was highly influential at the time.

Main Cast

Richard Widmark is in one of his best roles and gives a top performance as the amoral Skip. Thelma Ritter gives a memorable performance and adds an emotional resonance to the movie, with a particularly touching and well acted final scene.
Richard Widmark ... Skip McCoy
Jean Peters ... Candy
Thelma Ritter ... Moe
Murvyn Vye ... Captain Dan Tiger
Richard Kiley ... Joey
Willis Bouchey ... Zara
Milburn Stone ... Winoki
Parley Baer ... Headquarters Communist
George E. Stone ... Willie - Police Desk Clerk
Stuart Randall ... Detective


Director ... Samuel Fuller
Producer ... Jules Schermer
Screenplay ... Samuel Fuller
Music ... Leigh Harline
Cinematography ... Joseph MacDonald
Distribution Company ... 20th Century Fox
Release date ... June 17, 1953
Running time ... 80 minutes

Academy Awards

No Wins:
One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Supporting Actress ... Thelma Ritter