dir. Sam Fuller
Perhaps more than any other director, Sam Fuller is associated with slam-bang opening scenes. Bred in the hard-bitten world of yellow journalism, Fuller understood the importance of grabbing the viewer (or reader) by the balls with a catchy hook. Not surprisingly, most of the opening scenes in his oeuvre consist of some manner of attention grabbing action. As much as I love these scenes, I thought it would be interesting to examine a Fuller opening devoid any balls-to-the-wall action, one in which everything is conveyed in subtle hand and eye movements. Of the few subtle Fuller openings, the most accomplished is the dialogue-free, subway scene that begins Pickup on South Street.
A young woman, Candy (Jean Peters), stands in a sardine-tin cramped subway car. Unbeknownst to her, a couple of mysterious men suspiciously eye her. The train makes a stop and in enters the pickpocket Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark). He squeezes his way through the throng, eying the crowd for the perfect mark. Eventually, he sidles up next to Candy. The experienced Skip pulls out a newspaper to use as a diversion. As he pretends to read it, his hand reaches down to enter Candy's purse. To keep her focus away from the purse, Skip looks lustfully into her eyes. The two exchange sexually charged glances as Skip's magic fingers work inside her purse. As soon as Skip finishes, he quickly exits the train. The two mysterious men realize what has happened and attempt to chase him but can not catch the elusive Skip.
This is perhaps the most sexually suggestive scene ever to come out of the Production Code era. (Interestingly, this scene is mirrored later in the film, this time involving two men and the stealthy snatching of a pistol. Hello!). This scene also says more with a few glances than an entire chunk of expository dialogue. From this brief encounter, we know that Candy is carrying something in her purse of vital importance to the two shadowy men. All the while, Candy has been unaware of any of the goings-on: neither of the two men watching her nor of the man who has just stolen her property. Skip, of course, is also unaware of the two men tailing her. He was just attempting to make a quick buck. Skip and Candy have just unknowingly been caught up in affairs that are bigger than they possibly could have imagined.