If Pickup on South Street makes any point at all, it’s that there is nothing really wrong with pickpockets, even when they are given to violence, as long as they don’t play footsie with Communist spies. Since this is at best a thin theme, Pickup for the most part falls flat on its face and borders on presumably unintended, comedy.
Film’s assets are partly its photography, which creates an occasional tense atmosphere, and partly the performance of Thelma Ritter, the only halfway convincing figure in an otherwise unconvincing cast. As Moe, the tired but sharp-tongued old woman who sells ties and habitually informs on her underworld pals in order to collect enough money for a decent ‘plot and stone’, Ritter is both pathetic and amusing.
Story [by Dwight Taylor] has Richard Widmark picking Jean Peters’ purse in the subway. In the wallet he lifts are films of a secret chemical formula obtained by a Commie spy ring. Widmark’s act is observed by two Federal agents who are shadowing Peters. Latter is instructed by her boyfriend-boss Richard Kiley to trace Widmark and get back the film.
Widmark is given a chance to repeat on his snarling menace characterization followed by a look-what-love-can-do-to-a-bad-boy act as Widmark’s hard-boiled soul melts before Peters’ romancing.
1953: Nomination: Best Supp. Actress (Thelma Ritter)