PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (1953) revisited

January 14, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Thanks to The Dallas Film Society and movie critic Chris Vognar, we were lucky enough to watch this on the big screen from a 35mm print! If you enjoy the pulp thrillers from the 1950’s, this is one you must track down. For a little 80 minute B-movie, it packs a wallup for interesting discussion points.

Directed by Samuel Fuller (The Big Red One,1980), we get a real taste of his “man’s man” approach. Not only was Fuller a well-known war correspondent, he also served in WWII, including Omaha Beach on D-Day. This movie provided him with a stellar cast: Richard Widmark as Skip, Jean Peters as Candy, Thelma Ritter as Moe, and Richard Kiley as Joey. It is a story of the times and begins when a small-time pickpocket Skip, works his magic fingers on Candy’s purse while they are facing each other on the subway.

 The real fun begins as we watch the police, the feds and the communists all trying to hunt down Skip. The reason? He unknowingly stole top secret US information that was being passed to the commies. This film noir has some really tough elements. Heck, Skip even punches Candy right in the jaw! The lighting, score and fight scenes are all no-nonsense and direct. It’s really fun to watch the eye movements of the key players. It’s obvious none of the characters are comfortable in the situation, no matter how smooth they try to be.

The great Thelma Ritter runs off with each of her scenes. She plays Moe, the local stool pigeon who plays everyone for a buck. Ms. Ritter was nominated for an Oscar for her role (one of four in a row for her), but it was another in her long line of 6 nominations and no wins. This may be her best work. Another of my all time favorite character actors makes a brief appearance as one of the commies: Willis Bouchey. And don’t miss Milburn Stone as a detective. Mr. Stone would go on to star as Doc on “Gunsmoke” for twenty years.

 The film features some terrific lines. One of my favorites is “Everybody likes everybody when they’re kissing.” Another is “I would rather have a live pickpocket than a dead traitor.” Fun stuff. Should also mention that Jean Peters (pictured in a scene from this movie) went on to become the wife of Howard Hughes and her acting days abruptly ended. After their divorce, she made a couple of TV appearances, but was unable to recapture the magic of these early years. Should also note that this film was re-made (weakly) in 1969 as The Cape Town Affair.

*note – I couldn’t find the original trailer or a clip that didn’t give away the ending.

BASEBALL MOVIES: Readers Poll Results

October 26, 2011

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.” —Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) in Field of Dreams

Thanks to all of you who particpated in the Readers Poll for Favorite Baseball Movies. Although I sensed a minor conspiracy amongst women voters, the final results were pretty close to other published baseball movie lists.  I won’t name names, but the most creative write-in votes were for The Untouchables – noting the scene where Al Capone makes use of a Louisville Slugger, and Touching Home – a vote based, I believe, solely on the blue eyes of Ed Harris.








3. (tie) BULL DURHAM



















One can’t go wrong with any of the Top 5 as they are all quite entertaining. On the list are a few laugh out loud moments, some high baseball drama, a touch of historical significance, and a heavy shot (or two) of melodrama.

One of the frustrating things about baseball (and most sports) movies is that no matter how talented an actor might be, it’s very difficult to look like you can play the game if you really can’t.  Still, it’s the game, and the memories it creates that have such a grip on us.  Whether playing a pick-up game with our buddies (The Sandlot), watching our team play that magical season (Angels in the Outfield) or simply playing catch with dad (Field of Dreams), most of us carry a connection to the game of baseball and a corresponding special memory. That’s why there are more movies about baseball than football, basketball, hockey, golf and tennis combined.  It truly is the great game.

If you are interested in going a little deeper into the baseball vault, allow me to recommend a few that often get overlooked.

IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING (1949) – comedy about a scientist who discovers a substance that makes baseballs repel wood. It stars Ray Milland and Jean Peters (who became Mrs. Howard Hughes)

THE WINNING TEAM (1952) – the comeback story of Grover Cleveland Alexander, starring Doris Day and Ronald Reagan.  Yes, the same Mr. Reagan who would go on to become Governor of California and President of the United States.

THE BINGO LONG TRAVELING ALL-STARS and MOTOR KINGS (1976) – comedy about a barnstorming Negro League team from the 1930’s featuring Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, James Earl Jones and directed by John Badham

EIGHT MEN OUT (1988) – the story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox (Black Sox) scandal. It features a couple of then 22 year-olds named Charlie Sheen and John Cusack, and is directed by the great John Sayles.

THE SANDLOT (1993) – a story about kids being kids and the role baseball can play in family, friendship and growing up

KEN BURNS’ BASEBALL (1994) – if you have seen Mr. Burns’ documentary work on The Civil War or Jazz, then you have some sense of the detail and level of research that went into his multi-volume history of baseball

SUGAR (2008) – following the story of a talented Dominican minor league pitcher who dreams of the major leagues.

Thanks again to all who voted.  Pass this along to any baseball and/or movie lovers you know.  The final pitch is two more quotes:

It’s a great day for a ball game, let’s play two!”Ernie Banks

I’ve tried ’em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.” — Annie (Susan Sarandon) in Bull Durham