Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Pickup on South Street (1953)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Pickup on South Street (1953)

In director Sam Fuller's action-packed film - it was a raw, hard-boiled, 'Red Scare' and Cold War-era, crime-noir thriller. Due to a chance encounter, the plot became embroiled involving distrust, violence, and a fateful criminal and sexual attraction between the two lead characters. The film's 'MacGuffin' was a valuable, highly sought-after roll of microfilm containing top-secret government information wanted by Communist spies.

The film became known for its savage brutality against the femme fatale - from both her snarling future lover and ex-lover, although the violence was toned-down from earlier versions of the screenplay. Fuller's script for the film was based upon Dwight Taylor's short story "Blaze of Glory."

The various levels of characters were hierarchically displayed: (1) the respectable Feds, police and other official government authorities, (2) various trapped or stuck underworld low-lifes (stool-pigeons, ex-prostitutes, ex-cons, pickpockets, etc.), and (3) the Commies and their agents (working with a mercenary syndicate). The settings were also hard-edged, coarse and gritty: police stations, shabby rented flophouses, a run-down waterfront bait shack, and subway stations (and restroom).

Intense violence was seen in three scenes: Skip's and Candy's personal knock-out fights, Joey's beating of Candy, and Skip's beating of Joey. The film's two taglines were: "HOW THE FBI TOOK A CHANCE ON A B-GIRL...AND WON!", and "NO PUNCHES PULLED! NOTHING HELD BACK! ...In the Counter-Blast Against Espionage!"

  • in the opening scene set on a crowded and claustrophobic New York subway during rush-hour, tough-minded pickpocket Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark), a recently-released small-time hood and ex-con known as a "cannon," edged flirtatiously close to nervous, lip-biting femme fatale Candy (Jean Peters) to make her his latest petty-theft robbery victim. He stole/fingered (symbolically filmed like a violating rape) sensitive government/military microfilm contained in an envelope (bound for Communist spies with her as the unsuspecting courier) from her opened purse as two other FBI agents were conducting surveillance; FBI agents Zara (Willis Bouchey) and Enyart (Jerry O'Sullivan), looked on helplessly; McCoy didn't realize he had inadvertently obtained stolen US microfilm to be smuggled out of the country by Communist spies
  • Candy met with her shady ex-boyfriend/lover Joey (Richard Kiley) and told him about the theft; he falsely told her he was selling classified stolen business secrets to a rival firm: ("a new patent for a chemical formula"). Unbeknownst to the mistreated Candy, Joey was actually an exploitative courier-contact working for the Communists. He had asked her for a final favor to deliver an envelope with the microfilm. He was upset about the loss and convinced her as an ex-prostitute with seedy connections: ("You know people who know people"), to locate the pickpocket and retrieve the microfilm
  • Skip was then identified as a possible suspect by stool-pigeon police informant Moe Williams (Oscar-nominated Thelma Ritter), an embittered, eccentric, elderly, world-weary, necktie-seller and information street peddler, who sold her list of eight possible pickpocket suspects for a reduced fee of $38.50
Moe Williams (Thelma Ritter) Acting as Police Informant to Captain Dan Tiger
  • an ex-con who had recently been released from prison, McCoy was called in to be questioned by Police Captain Dan Tiger (Murvyn Vye) and government agent Zara. It was revealed that FBI agents had been trailing Candy for six months to identify and apprehend the organization's mysterious ringleader, nicknamed "Mr. Big." After Skip professed his innocence to the authorities and denied stealing the microfilm, they pressured him with patriotic appeals, but he denied having the film: (McCoy: "You boys are talking to the wrong corner. I'm just a guy keeping my hands in my own pockets." Zara: "If you refuse to cooperate, you'll be as guilty as the traitors that gave Stalin the A-bomb." McCoy (retorting): "Are you wavin' the flag at me?")
  • Skip became indignant about being labeled as a "three-time loser" by Tiger: "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 tryin' 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!"
  • although he had denied possessing the film, McCoy realized he had stolen a strip of valuable microfilm (with chemical formulas) after viewing it in the NY Public Library. He hid it (knowing it would be worth alot in exchange)
  • through her underworld connections, Candy - who was on her own searching for the film - was led to speak to "stoolie" Moe and for $50 bucks (Moe's second tip payoff for basically the same information), she was directed to the location of Skip's hideout
  • in a night-time sequence at Skip's run-down East River waterfront shack near the Brooklyn Bridge, he returned to his residence where he found prowler Candy with a flashlight searching through his possessions. He punched Candy unconscious and then searched her purse before reviving her with cold beer. When she came to, he asked: "Wanna beer?" She responded: "I want my wallet....I gotta find that wallet." Skip told her that he knew what the film was and demanded money for it. He lovingly rubbed her sore jaw for a few moments and then after a few kisses, Skip remarked: "You look for oil, sometimes you hit a gusher."
Skip Lovingly Rubbing Candy's Sore Jaw and After Kisses: "You look for oil, sometimes you hit a gusher"
  • after she left, Tiger arrived to offer Skip a bribe - in exchange for the film, Skip would have his record wiped clean, but Skip refused
  • meanwhile, Candy reported back to Joey that she had no success finding the stolen film with Skip: ("He's shaking you down. That tells the story"). When Joey refused her suggestion that he take a chance and make a deal with Skip, she became suspicious of him: ("Maybe there's something about that film that you haven't told me"). He demanded that she keep pressing McCoy to acquire the film; he gave her $500 bucks to use as bribe money ("You've gotta come back with it, Candy")
  • during Candy's second visit to his place, Skip and Candy developed a sweaty, rough and tumble, sado-masochistic love relationship. After hot kissing and an embrace, she restated his earlier claim: "Look for oil and you hit a gusher." Then, he stole the bribe money from her purse, pushed her away and riskily demanded a huge payment of $25,000 in exchange for the prized microfilm from the "Commie" syndicate; she became puzzled and confused when he called her a "Red" and accused her of being involved with the Communists: ("You tell that Commie I want a big score for that film, and I want it in cash, tonight....Come on. Drop the act. So you're a Red. Who cares? Your money's as good as anybody else's...I know what you're after. I know what it's worth...I'll do business with a Red, but I don't have to believe one (she slapped him)....Get out of here! Now tell your old lady I'm shakin' down you Reds for 25 grand"); he demanded $25,000 dollars for the return of the stolen microfilm that he knew was extremely valuable to the authorities, the government and to the Communists
  • when Candy reported back to Joey about her lack of success with McCoy and his new demands, Joey's Communist contacts also informed him of a firm deadline of 24 hours for its delivery, and had given him a gun: "Delivery must be made tomorrow night. Get that film!"
  • astonished that the Reds were involved, Candy realized the seriousness of the situation, and briefly conferred with Moe to warn her - and to urge her not to identify McCoy to Joey in order to protect him: "You wouldn't sell him to a Commie"; she was concerned that Skip wouldn't believe her if she warned him of the danger involved
  • shortly later, Moe failed to convince Skip about the dangers of dealing with Communists, and to give up the film, but she was able to warn him to stay away from his shack to avoid being gunned down; she also advised him to take Candy seriously: "That muffin you grifted, she's okay. Stuck her chin way out for you...The kid loves you."
  • upon Moe's return to her dingy Bowery rooming house located above a tattoo parlor, she was confronted by desperate Commie hitman-killer Joey; she refused to reveal the pickpocket's whereabouts even though Joey bribed her with $500; she said she would face the consequences for drawing the line and taking a moral stance against the Reds, since she was old and tired and ready to give up anyway: "I know you Commies are looking for some film that don't belong to you...."; Joey cocked his gun
  • she mentioned how she had always wanted to make enough money to be buried on Long Island and avoid being buried in Potter's Field: "So I don't get to have the fancy funeral after all. Anyway, I tried. Look, Mister, I'm so tired, you'd be doin' me a big favor if you'd blow my head off"; the camera panned to the left and a gunshot was heard - with the final image of her bedside Victrola's needle symbolically reaching the end of the 78 rpm record (the popular French tune "Mam'zelle")
Joey's Murder of Informant Moe Williams - The Film's Most Downbeat Scene

Joey Shaking Down Moe

"'d be doin' me a big favor if you'd blow my head off"

Skip Reclaiming Moe's Body From Tugboat
  • in the subsequent scene after learning of Moe's murder, McCoy (who was cleared of being a suspect in Moe's death) reclaimed her body from a tugboat (and took her in coffin # 11 to Potter's Field) in order to give her a proper burial with a tombstone and plot in a cemetery: ("I'm gonna bury her") - fulfilling her sole wish in life
  • after McCoy returned to his shack-hideout and found an upset Candy there (who was blaming herself for Moe's death), he told her that he was still willing to deal with Joey and return the strip of microfilm in exchange for the 25 grand. She gave him Joey's address, but then thinking that she could clear Skip's name and involvement on her own, Candy knocked him unconscious with a bottle, and took the marked microfilm strip to FBI agents Zara and Tiger ("the pickpocket squad"). They directed her to go back to Joey (a "Communist agent") in order to apprehend him and detect the king-pin of the organization
  • in a remarkable scene, Joey entered Candy's apartment - (she was wearing a white robe with a hood straight from the bathtub). He was astonished to see that she had the microfilm but then he noticed a frame missing (Skip had taken one of the frames for himself). He brutally knocked her around for not divulging Skip's address a second time - the commotion broke lamps, picture frames and tables - before he shot her and left her seriously wounded; Joey frantically searched in Candy's purse and found Skip's address before leaving through a dumb-waiter to elude the police
  • after her beating by Joey, Skip paid a hospital visit to see the bruised Candy, who warned that Joey found a frame missing: "I had to tell you before he got to you"; she advised him to "get rid of it" now that he was "clean"; she also said that she was sorry for spoiling his "big score": ("I'm sorry I spoiled your big score. I know it sounds corny to you, but I'd rather have a live pickpocket than a dead traitor"); he also learned that she hadn't lied to him, and hadn't told Joey where he lived - Joey had found the address in her purse; she again warned: "Don't go back to the shack, Skip." He finally realized that she really loved him because she wouldn't reveal his address - and had suffered a beating for it; he romantically kissed her
  • back at his shack, Skip ripped up his single stolen frame of microfilm, but then had to evade capture when Joey and his partner Fenton (George Eldredge) arrived, by hiding underneath the structure; he overheard that the microfilm had to be delivered in only 30 minutes; Fenton told him that he might have to bring what they had, without the one missing microfilm frame: "You better deliver what you've got"; Joey's suggestion - "Maybe it might be better if you turned it over. I'll wait here for McCoy" - was entirely ignored; Fenton instructed Joey that he might be able to obtain the missing frame: "Tell him I'll meet him at the airport with the other frame, but not to wait"
  • with no time to spare, Joey first raced to a subway station (with Skip in pursuit), and then Skip followed Joey into a moving subway car where he deftly pickpocketed the gun from Joey's coat; at the Third Ave. stop, Skip then observed the microfilm being delivered to a Communist agent-courier in a restroom; he confronted the man ("There's a frame missing, buster") before beating up the agent, and also retaliated against Joey; in a thrilling and violent chase and fight sequence, he brutalized Joey mercilessly on the subway platform, dragged him down stairs face- and feet-first, and then kept pummeling him next to the subway tracks before turning him over to authorities

Skip Pickpocketing Joey's Gun on Subway Car

Beating Up Joey in Subway Restroom

Brutalizing Joey Next to the Subway Tracks
  • in this film noir's surprisingly positive ending set back in the police station, Skip had officially been released - and vowed to resume his relationship with Candy. They were about to leave to start a new life together. He turned to Candy and told her: "Honey, you look as good as new. Did you miss me, muffin? Come on. Let's get outta here."
  • as they departed from the office - Police Captain Tiger predicted that Skip would soon be apprehended again for criminal activities: Tiger: "You'll always be a two-bit purse snatcher. I give you 30 days before I pick ya up with your hand in somebody else's pocket." Candy defiantly disagreed with a smile: "You wanna bet?"

Opening Crowded Subway Pickpocket Sequence: McCoy Fingering Sultry Candy's Purse

Joey (Richard Kiley) - Candy's Ex-Boyfriend - A Communist Spy

McCoy Questioned by Police - His Retort: "Are you wavin' the flag at me?"

Candy with Moe - Who Directed Her to McCoy

Candy Knocked Unconscious by McCoy in His Shack Hideout

Candy Pressured by Joey to Return to McCoy With Bribe Money

Skip's Sado-Masochistic Love Affair with Candy

Candy's Upset at the News of Moe's Murder

Candy Beaten Up and Shot by Joey

Skip's Hospital Visit to See the Bruised Candy - They Kissed

Stolen Single Frame of Microfilm

Skip Reconciled with Candy


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