Watch out! There Are Reds Under The Bed!
- Pickup on South Street review by Count Otto Black
Sam Fuller made some interesting films, but this isn't one if them. Although it doubtless pressed all the right buttons at the time, nowadays its ranting paranoia about "Commies" just seems embarrassing, especially since with the benefit of hindsight we now know that Communist infiltration of the USA at that time was practically non-existent, and the evil hypocrisy of Senator McCarthy and the HUAC is now seen as a shameful blot on American democracy that ruined numerous peoples' lives and drove some of its victims to suicide over an alleged "threat" that didn't really exist to any meaningful extent.
Richard Widmark, who would have won the Academy Award For Sneering every year if there had only been such a thing, sneers magnificently as somebody bad with a small b - he picks pockets - who encounters Bad with a very big B indeed - Commies!!! - and has to choose between the temptation of vast sums of money, which in his cynical sneering way he believes is the only thing he's interested in, and doing the right thing. Basically, does he want to get very rich by selling out every decent hard-working American to grovel under the jackboots of Stalin forever, or would he ultimately prefer to turn the vile Commie traitors over to the FBI to be shot out of hand like the rabid dogs they are? Gee, I wonder if you can guess how this film ends...
Widmark is good, because within his limited acting range he usually was. Most of the supporting cast are good. The basic idea of a selfish petty criminal having to weigh personal gain against admitting that some things matter a lot more than he does is a perfectly sound one, and features heavily in the plots of quite a few films in this genre. What sinks it is a script that allows Commies absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever. They're despicable one-dimensional cowards who are evil through and through, and nothing else. They can't even shave properly! If throughout this movie you replaced the word "Commie" with "Nazi Cancer Daleks From Hell", it would make just as much sense, and be a lot funnier. Even the confusion our reluctant hero experiences when he's attracted to a girl who is - horrors! - a COMMIE!! isn't used for proper dramatic effect because nobody genuinely attractive could possibly be one of those subhuman Commie scum, so she's soon revealed to be a dupe who didn't know who she was really working for, and just about throws up when she finds out. Technically it's well made and acted, but the constant one-note anti-Commie hysteria utterly ruins it.
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