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Saturday: December 31, 2005

Just Under The Wire

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:49 PM GMT-0500

What’s the best movie I’ve seen this year? Pickup on South Street (1953), which I watched this evening. It was one of the four I bought with the Border’s gift certificate my students’ parents gave me (plus 7¢ of my own money): the others were Rififi, Quai des Orfèvres, and (the only non-noir) The Browning Version. A relative also bought me the Warner Brothers “Classic Comedy Collection” from my Amazon wish list, consisting of Dinner at Eight, Libeled Lady, and The Philadelphia Story, all of which I had seen on Turner Classic Movies and liked, and Bringing Up Baby, Stage Door, and To Be or Not To Be, which I had not seen. I watched Bringing Up Baby a few days ago, and was not impressed. Further thoughts on both:

Bringing Up Baby: Katharine Hepburn’s character was far more annoying than either she (the character) or the movie-makers seemed to realize. I would have smacked her, and I’m not at all prone to smacking women — or men, or children, for that matter. Some of the minor characters were amusing, particularly the crazy psychiatrist, and I liked the idea of leopard-hunting with a croquet mallet and a butterfly net, but in general the movie seemed to be trying too hard to be funny. Perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood for screwball comedy. Afterwards I realized that I must have seen Bringing Up Baby once many years ago, but the only things I remembered were the leopard-loon calls and the final collapse of the brontosaurus.

Pickup on South Street: I only lived in New York for six months in the fall of 2001, but there was still a surprising amount of familiar scenery. I think the subway cars in the opening scene are still in service. The male lead’s hideout was a wonderful shack in the river with a view of (I think) the Brooklyn Bridge, the characters were interestingly complex, and the plot had sufficient twists and turns to be interesting. Interesting sidelights:

  • I know nothing of cinematography, but there seemed to be a lot of interesting things going on visually.
  • Apparently New York had a ‘four strikes and you’re out’ policy at the time, since the pickpocket assumes that one more conviction will put him away for life.
  • Escaping in the dumbwaiter is an obvious enough idea that the police have someone stationed at the bottom of the shaft. The cat hanging around in the garbage area is a nice touch.
  • In this movie, even common criminals draw the line at Communism and treason, and the police appeal to this fundamental (if minimal) decency.