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Film / Pickup on South Street

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Pickup on South Street is a 1953 Cold War spy Film Noir written and directed by Samuel Fuller and released by the 20th Century Fox studio.

Barely out of prison, loner and pickpocket Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) quietly helps himself to the contents of a woman's purse. His beautiful victim, Candy (Jean Peters), turns out to be an unwitting courier for the communist underground; his booty is actually microfilmed U.S. government secrets, formerly en route to Moscow. Both the FBI and Candy's employers are desperate to retrieve the film.

This film provides examples of:

  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Candy seems to be extremely fond of edgy characters.
  • Anti-Hero: Skip and Candy. Neither of them has a clean slate, but they show likable character traits.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: The commies (or rather their agents) are depicted as ruthless evil characters who Would Hit a Girl and Shoot the Dog, the cops are a bunch of sanctimonious jerks, while New York is filled with lowlifes with a heart of gold who succumb to a criminal life style only to make ends meet.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Candy, after being shot in the back by Joey. Unlike most victims of this trope, she gets to live.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Skip is established as an expert pickpocket in the opening scene of the film. This skill later allows him to lift Joey's gun off him before their final confrontation.
  • Colliding Criminal Conspiracies: A minor pickpocket lifts a wallet and winds up enmeshed in a Communist plot.
  • Dirty Communists: The ring of communist spies who try to spirit the top-secret microfilm out of the country. As shown in the film, the so-called agents are actually thugs contracted by communist agent to do their grunt work, and don't care an iota about ideology.
  • Does Not Like Guns: Skip is offended when the cops frisk him for weapons, saying "Of course not, I've never used a gun in my life!"
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Candy, being harassed by cops and bashed up and shot by Joey.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Instead of destroying the film or turning it in to the cops for immunity, Skip tries to sell it back to the spies for a big payoff. This shocks even his fellow lowlifes, one of whom remarks, "Even in our crummy business, you have to draw the line somewhere."
  • Face Death with Dignity: Moe, when she realizes she wouldn't make it out alive.
    Moe: "Mister, I'm so tired. You'll be doing a real favour by blowing my head off!"
  • Five-Finger Discount: Skip's trade.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: The climactic fist fight between Skip and Joey in the subway.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Candy knocks Skip out by slamming a beer bottle (which miraculously does not break) down on his head to prevent him taking the film to Joey.
  • He Knows Too Much: Moe had to die because she knew about the Dirty Commies' involvement in the case.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Both Moe and Candy refuse to tell Joey where Skip lived. Both were shot for their lack of cooperation, one died from it.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Skip.
  • Karma Houdini: Skip. First he steals a wallet containing the microfilm. When the cops offer him immunity for the film, he decides to sell it back to the spies instead. Even when the commies murder his best friend in cold blood, he's still willing to sell the film to them, which would have gotten him killed, had the girl not knocked him out and taken it to the cops. And what's his comeuppance for being such an unrepentant louse? He gets the girl and rides off into the sunset scott-free...but not before dropping by the police station to rub the head cop's nose in it.
  • Love at First Sight: Candy falls for Skip the first time they met.
  • MacGuffin: The microfilm of top-secret government information.
  • Meet Cute: A pretty weird version of Meet Cute. Not counting the moment when he picked her purse, Skip meets Candy for the first time when he sees her rummaging through his shack, and knocks her cold with a punch to the jaw before discovering she's a woman.
  • Minion with an F in Evil: Candy can't seem to play the evil card right.
  • Not in This for Your Revolution: Skip doesn't give a damn about the Cold War, nor about Uncle Sam, all he cares for is reward money and his friends.
    Skip: Are you waving the flag at me?
  • Oh, Crap!: Quite the expressive nonverbal one from Joey, when he reaches for his gun during the final fight with Skip and comes up empty.
  • One Last Job: That's what Candy promised to herself.
  • Percussive Pickpocket: Having snatched Candy's wallet, Skip applies this trope to close the purse.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Joey does this to a cop blocking his escape route. The cop dies of the head wound.
  • The Rat: Moe, although a very sympathetic one.
  • Really Gets Around: Candy is described as having had many lovers.
  • Red Scare: A major theme running through the film.
  • Second-Face Smoke: Skip provokingly blows smoke into the face of the detective who was suspended twice for smacking him.
  • Tap on the Head: Characters repeatedly get knocked out by a single blow to the head. One detective even dies from a Pistol-Whipping.
  • Unintentionally Notorious Crime: Skip lifts a wallet from the purse of a random woman on the subway. Unbeknownst to him, the wallet contains a microfilm the woman is ferrying to the head of Communist spy ring. Stealing the wallet puts the police, the feds and the Commies on Skip's trail.
  • Water Wake-up: Skip uses this technique to wake up Candy after he gave her a good Tap on the Head.
  • Will Talk for a Price: Moe and Lightning Louie will take offers.
  • Would Hit a Girl: In one memorable unbroken take, Joey brutally beats up and slams Candy around the room.