Pickup on South Street: Extra! Pickpocket Foils Doom Plot!

Essays

Feb 16, 2004

Samuel Fuller had ink in his veins, just like the hero of his 1952 newspaper epic, Park Row. After all, he started working as a copyboy when he was fourteen or so, and at seventeen he was the youngest crime reporter in the country, employed by the most daring and scurrilous tabloid America has ever seen, the New York Evening Graphic. When that paper folded (under the combined impact of a number of libel suits), he moved to California and soon began supplementing his income by writing film scripts, selling his first in 1936, when he was just twenty-four. Five years later, he was in the movie business full-time, and he directed his first picture, I Shot Jesse James (1949), not long after he got out of the service. In Hollywood, he was clearly drawing on another part of his brain—he was a wildly visual and visceral filmmaker, and one of the great masters of the moving camera—but he never shed his reportorial instincts. He knew how to sell a story as well as tell one, how to hit hard and not let go. Every one of his movies has a built-in banner headline.

Pickup on South Street is a penny dreadful with a hundred layers of felt meaning—the kind you register subcutaneously.”


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