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PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET
1953 - Samuel Fuller
United States
53
Opening Shot

Pickup on South Street opens to a masterful dialogue-free sequence of shots on a subway- immediately setting the story in place, while also establishing its sexual undertone and complex layers. The film opens on a close-up of an alluringly sexy woman inside a crowed subway train, cutting to close-ups of two men watching her. As the train stops, new passengers get on. Among them is a well-dressed man who pushes his way through the crowd before stopping next to the woman (he slyly checks her out). Using his newspaper as a prop, he opens up her purse to steal from her without her ever noticing (the shots cut between close-ups of the two). As the train stops the man quickly leaves the train and the two men that were watching the woman think he might have stolen from her...

The Film

Tough choice picking my favorite Sam Fuller film between Pickup on South Street and The Steel Helmet. His low-budget 1953 noir Pickup on South Street may be Fuller's definitive thematic film. From the wordless opening sequence we are immediately drawn into the masterful style and seduction. There is a complexity to this sequence that emerges as the film progresses and we greater understand the underlying sexual tension of the film, which lies underneath the blend of political espionage, petty crime, and moral psychology. Beyond the simplicity of the films setup lies deeply complex moral layers on politics, business, loyalty, love and sexuality. Fuller creates the universe of this film through pulp conventions, and by embracing these conventions the film generates its unflinching energy. As a petty crook that finds himself trapped up in a world of powerful enemies, Richard Widmark embodies the quintessential anti-hero of Fuller's work. Also memorable is the performance by the always great Thelma Ritter, who owns every scene she is in. Pickup on South Street is a masterpiece and one of the truly definitive and most complex, layered film noirs ever made.

The Filmmaker

Sam Fuller is one of American cinema's great avant-garde filmmakers. A filmmaker whose passionate craftsmanship and style poured into to his films to generate an equally bizarre and powerful cinematic work. He was a filmmaker that had a cult-following and a mass portion of the cult could be found in the young emerging French filmmakers who would use the style and techniques of filmmakers such of Fuller as inspiration for the avant-garde New Wave movement (Jean Luc Godard was a great admirer). If there is one aspect of Fuller's work that is always evident it is the raw emotion and energy he captures through his style. Often it may seem bizarre and perhaps even incoherent or chaotic, but there remains such a passion and a wild force behind everything he does that make Fuller's films so irresistible and unique. Fuller began directing films in 1949 and throughout the 1950s and into the 60s he would make a variety of different films that were budgeted as B-pictures and shifted among genres: westerns, war, melodrama, and film noir. His most memorable films may be his disturbing and excitingly bizarre melodramas (Shock Corridor and Naked Kiss) and his best work may have been with noir (notably his greatest masterpiece Pickup on South Street a simple film of intriguing depths). But his most personal films were perhaps the war films he made, which were portrayed with a rare display of honesty and violence. Fuller was a World War 2 veteran who fought as a rifleman in the 1st Infantry Division. Fuller's 1980 film Big Red One is the most personal and most ambitious film he made, as it documented many of his experiences with the 1st Infantry Division in World War 2. Featuring a blend of his definitive style, intense emotion, and poetic imagery the film is a grand and deeply impacting achievement. The Big Red One suffered some massive cuts from the studio and Fuller's version of the film was not seen until a restored version of the film was released in 2004. Fuller's next film White Dog in 1982 faced controversial claims of being racist and was never released in America. Fuller's remaining films were all made overseas. Fuller's films are reflection of the artist, and they are displayed in an unashamed and passionate vision. They are pure emotion!

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