We're hooked on this poster—and the movie too.
Le port de la drogue was better known as Pickup on South Street, a movie we raved about a little while ago. Its U.S. poster is pedestrian, but this promo for the French market was painted by Constantin Belinsky, and we think it's spectacular. He actually painted two posters, the second of which—not quite as nice because he was asked to copy the U.S. promo—appears below. We'd never heard of Belinsky before but we'll keep our eyes open for more of his work. Pickup on South Street premiered in the U.S. in 1953 and seems to not have made it to France until today in 1961. We aren't sure why it took so long, but the wait was worth it, because the movie is great.
Widmark/Peters noir looks great and packs a punch.
It wouldn't be a film noir festival without at least one anti-commie thriller and Pickup on South Street is it. The movie stars Richard Widmark as a two-bit pickpocket who lifts a wallet during an NYC subway ride and unexpectedly ends up with a priceless government secret meant to be given to commie spies by a cabal of sweaty traitors. Widmark sneers his way into a position where he thinks he can sell the stolen info for fifty grand. He's got another think coming.
Best line: If you refuse to cooperate you'll be as guilty as the traitors that gave Stalin the A bomb!
Well, Stalin had help from spies but we don't think any gave him the bomb like a borscht recipe. He had help on other fronts as well, including from captured German scientists and homegrown Russian knowhow, but this is film noir, so go with it. The good team vs. bad team dynamic continues throughout, and numerous people try to convince Widmark to put his own interests aside and play for the home squad. They're wasting their breath.
The movie co-stars Jean Peters, a good actress and amazing knockout who's been a bit forgotten, even though she was in a few other good films and went on to marry nutball billionaire Howard Hughes. Her opening scene on a humid subway will stick with you. Sadly, she harbors yet another inexplicable film noir infatuation with a male lead who's about as nice as a sack of cold dick tips, but this is film noir so go with it. Ditto for the pushing and slapping Peters endures. She's even knocked cold by Widmark in their initial encounter. Deliberately.
His apology: You okay or did I bust something?
These sly flirtations increase Peters' ardor. The female heart wants what it wants, at least in the minds of wannabe-tough-guy Hollywood screenwriters. That screenwriter would be Samuel Fuller, who actually was acquainted with the underworld from his days as a crime reporter. So it could be that he knew more about gutter love than we do, but we doubt it. Here's what really matters—Peters absolutely kills her role, and does her own stunts too. Thelma Ritter, later of Rear Window, also gets a pivotal turn and nails her part as a tired older lady just trying to get by.
In the end Pickup on South Street comes full circle. While it's about patriotism, and trying to survive in New York City with zero means, and a weird kind of masochistic 1953 infatuation we'll never really understand, it starts with pickpocketing and eventually returns, in a symmetry that feels very modern in screenwriting terms, to that idea for the excellent climax. With Fuller directing and Joe MacDonald handling the cinematography, the final result is a knockout in both senses of the word—looks great, packs a punch.
First rule of plotting a murder: make sure the victim isn't listening in.
Above you see a poster for Pickup, one of the nastier little noirs we've run across our years maintaining this website. Beverly Michaels tries to worm her way into a retired man's affections in order to have the life of leisure she thinks she deserves. But her target, in addition to being old fashioned and a bit obtuse, has some sort of chronic or psychosomatic brain injury that results in confusion and hearing loss. Even so, she manages to marry the poor slob, then sets about figuring how to kill him to obtain his savings of $7,300. When he's hit by a car one afternoon his hearing returns, but Michaels has no idea it's happened and openly plots to murder him, assuming he's still deaf while the entire time he listens in horror. This isn't supposed to be funny, but it is, uproariously. Michaels says the most vicious things about the guy, behind his back and right to his face, day after day, with no idea he can hear every word. These crazy sequences are a big reason why this cheap little b-flick has survived the decades. Plus Michaels knocks her first starring turn over the center field bleachers, playing shrill, wall-eyed evil to the hilt. She was rewarded with more work, including similar gold digger parts in 1953's Wicked Woman and 1956's Blonde Bait. The latter was her last role, making for a short career, but a memorable one. We recommend Pickup, morbid plot, shoestring production values, and all. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1951.