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3 Pickup on South Street Out of the Red and Into the Black No heart ever yearned the way that mine does And yet I know too well Someday you’ll say goodbye Then violins will cry And so will I, mam’selle. —“Mam’selle” (Edmund Goulding and Mack Gordon, 1947) Released in 1953 at the end of the first cycle of postwar anticommunist films (1947–1954),SamuelFuller’sPickuponSouthStreetisa“canonicalColdWartext.”1 It’salsooneofthe“mostoverdetermined”filmsmadeduringtheblacklistperiod, “centrally concerned” as it is with the “politics of informing.”2 AlthoughthepoliceandFBIhaveadistinctpresenceinPickuponSouthStreet, Fuller’s film, as opposed to I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. or Walk East on Beacon !, depicts both the cops and Feds as crudely utilitarian, indifferent to the human costs of the national security state apparatus. Moreover, whereas Big Jim McLainprivileges,viatheiconic,militantlyanticommunistfigureofJohnWayne, the “big” exploits of the eponymous, all-American hero, Pickup on South Street dramatizes the lives of its small-time hoods and hustlers, for whom the threat of the red menace is less pressing than the day-to-day, dog-eat-dog grind of trying to remain in the black. With the possible exception of Kiss Me Deadly (1955), Pickup on South Street is, in addition, the most highly regarded anticommunist noir. Some of the film’s cachet has to with Fuller’s status as a “maverick” or “primitive” director; some has to do with his contested relation to communism. As for the former epithets, 80 ’50s Noir and Anticommunism which,likethe“anticommunist”moniker,havebecomepartofthereceivedcritical wisdom about Fuller, Lisa Dombrowski has persuasively argued that casting the director as a “primitive” obscures his deliberate as opposed to instinctive relation to classical Hollywood cinema. The emphasis on Fuller as an indie or B filmmaker also minimizes the “varied production conditions under which he worked.”3 For example, since the budget for Pickup on South Street was $780,000 and the film “premiered at the Roxy in New York—complete with floor show— on June 17, 1953,” it was in “no way a B-picture.”4 Unsurprisingly, the issue of Fuller’s anticommunism is tangled up with his reputation as a primitive, maverick auteur. Thus, at the 1953 Venice Film Festival, GeorgesSadoul—residentcriticofLesLettres Françaisesandputativespokesperson for the network of Parisian “left-wing ciné-clubs” under the control of the French Communist Party—called Fuller the “McCarthy of cinema.”5 Following Sadoul’shard-line,StalinistverdictonPickuponSouthStreet,theFrenchdistributortweakedthefilm ’splot,eliminatinganyreferencetocommunismandchanging the stolen goods from microfilm to heroin, a substitution reflected in the French title for the picture, Le Port de la drogue (Port of Drugs). Bytheend ofthe 1950s,however,Fuller’sreputationinFrancehadundergone aseachange.Inaninfluential1959articleinCahiersducinémathatwasaresponse in part to Sadoul’s indictment, Luc Moullet, who characterized the director as an “intelligent primitive,” queried, “Could Fuller really be the fascist, right-wing extremist who was denounced not so long ago in the Communist press? I don’t think so. He has too much the gift of ambiguity to be able to align himself exclusively with one party.”6 Moullet’s position—reflected in a celebrated apothegm lateradoptedbyJean-LucGodard,“Moralityisaquestionoftrackingshots”7 —effectivelyshiftedtheattentionfromFuller ’spoliticstoaesthetics.AsPeterStanfield observes in a scrupulously researched chapter on Fuller in Maximum Movies, Fuller’s canonization in France was replayed in Great Britain, where, writing in Movie,V.F. PerkinscontendedthatFuller’sfilmswere“illustratedlectures”(note the Brechtian inflection) in which “ambiguity is such that [it] makes opposites coexist.”8 This pronounced ambiguity has continued to confound those critics writing on Fuller who are determined to resolve or reconcile the contradictory politics of Pickup on South Street. But what Fuller himself has said about the reception of The Steel Helmet (1951), which Hedda Hopper termed “strongly anti-red” and the Pentagonapieceof“communistindoctrination,”offersnotalittleinsightintohis directorial mind-set when shooting Pickup on South Street: “I didn’t give a goddamnwhetherleftiesorrightieslikedthepicture .Ididn’tmakeTheSteelHelmetto please any constituency.”9 While Fuller supposedly “set the record straight for all time”inhismemoir,AThirdFace—“I’mantitotalitarian,notanticommunist”10 — 81 Pickup on South Street it’sperhapsmoreaccuratetosaythatPickuponSouthStreetisanti-anticommunist, exceptthatsuchanegativeconstructionalsofailstocapturethefilm’sprofoundly antinomian impulse. Still,oneadvantageoftheabove,double-negativelocutionisthatitstressesthe anti-McCarthyistthrustofPickuponSouthStreet.Fullerhimself,commentingon thefilm’s allusionsto RichardNixon’s“phonyexposé”ofAlgerHiss,commented that with Pickup on South Street “he wanted to take a poke at the idiocy of the cold war climate of the fifties,”11 an observation that recalls his earlier remarks on The Steel Helmet: “Soldiers were trained to fight the fascists during the war. Now the bigoted winds of McCarthyism were blowing across democratic America, spreading the seed of another kind of fascism. The only way to fight those people here at home . . . was to poke holes in...


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