Friday, September 01, 2006

Le rouge et le noir

Last night I saw Samuel Fuller's 1953 noir Pickup on South Street on a fine-looking Criterion Collection DVD (although this library copy was scratched, making me miss the part from 33:03 to 33:25; anybody know what happens just before she leaves the shack?). Richard Widmark is in fine form as a pickpocket (or "cannon") who picks the wrong purse (in the opinion of some), obtaining for himself some curious microfilm. What was funny about it was the infusion of Red Scare attitudes into the noir form; our characters may be hardscrabble denizens of the demimonde, but they ain't no filthy commies, see? (On the other hand, our man would be willing to shake said commies down for $25K rather than, say, turning them over to the police.) See it on a double bill with Bresson's Pickpocket.

Iconic moment: Widmark offers Jean Peters a smoke; he lights it with his own half-smoked one; then he jams that one in her mouth and starts smoking the new one himself. Also Thelma Ritter and her neckties.

Another pairing for PoSS would be Kiss of Death, Widmark's 1947 debut, in which he plays the psycho killer Tommy Udo (love that insane grin). We also see an impossibly young Karl Malden in a bit part. This film was remade in 1995 with Nicholas Cage in the Widmark role and starring David Caruso, who had just quit NYPD Blue after one season in order to be a big movie star. This movie bombed, prompting much humor about the aptness of its title re: Mr. Caruso's career ... and then he went on to make Jade, a movie for which the phrase "godawful crap" is particularly apt. He seems to have found his place though, back on TV as the unflappable Lt. Horatio Caine on CSI: Miami, so we shall not weep for him.

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