Sunday, April 15, 2007

Pickup (1951)

Posted by Screamin Jay

Pickup is a 1951 independent “Forum production”. Released through Columbia Pictures Corporation. What you have here is of the typical B-Movie style. From an Austrian-born director who would never really get out of this little position he was in for this production, making really slight, minor pictures, one after the other. He had to flee Czechoslovakia after the Nazi invasion and like many others, he started a career in Hollywood, but unlike some of his compatriots (Billy Wilder), he never really did amount to much. As a director that is, because as an actor, he accomplished much fame in the 30’s in Czechoslovakia. And one could say he was a fair actor as well in this poor sensationalist pictures he directed here.

You can only credit him for his courage, for he went ahead, made a little wad of money and made it. He financed his own movies from the salary he’d be earning as an actor in the 40’s, within the studio system. He really is an auteur of his movies, he take total control of them, from the script to the direction to interpreting the main character. Only, it is for you to judge them for what they are… and my judgement on this one in specific is that it isn’t really a fantastic movie.

The style is a bit tame and without true character and originality. It’s exploitative nature spark out before it’s time, not quite having a clear direction in terms of thematic and symbols, not quite certain which way it is going, without the strong dialogues or narrative to truly hold one attention complete.

I always interpret a film noir as I would a Greek tragedy. In these conditions, this movie is nothing more then a farce. All it adds up to is a loony bunch of generic characters, badly drawn out, the technique to give them depth is very static, the acting is somewhat unbelievable, with poor performances in general, lacking any kind of subtlety. The camera moves a little, not too much, the long shadows are there. I can admit to enjoying some scenes taken separately. The whole just don’t hold up to the sum of its parts. There is of course a decent shock value, a gorgeous girl and some provocative, risque outfits to hold your attention for the short duration of the movie. It often seem like they shot this very quickly and didn’t care if the scene was just half as good as it could have been, would it have been reworked on a little. Of course you have sexy Beverly Michaels to look at, and some snappy dialogues in the way of:

-Ah, it was just fun watching you, you were as happy as a child.

-What’s your name?

-Jan Horak, they call me Hunky.

-Hunky, are you Hungarian?

-No, I’m Czech. But to them, it’s all the same, so I got use to it. I’ve been here thirty years here in America.

-Thirty years… and where’s your family?

-No family, not a soul in the whole world.

-Isn’t that sad, a poor orphan?

-A little old for an orphan don’t you think?

-You’re not old… and you have a very nice face.

-Even with all the grey hair?

-It’s what I like about you, makes you so distinguish looking!

-Distinguish my…

-You know you give me confidence.

-I’m sorry to give you the wrong impression.

-You old men are all alike. Sometimes it’s just too much; believe me, last week I lost a good job, the boss made passes at me and his old woman blew her top so I quit… and that’s what happens all the time.

-Isn’t that a shame?

-Yes, it sure is tough for a girl to make a decent living, especially when she have no place to go.

That’s what you’re getting here. The platinum blonde, the seductress, the somewhat psychotic femme fatale with wonderful tits, ass and face. The plaything, the doll, which will love you ‘til she wants to stab you. Drawn together, torn in decay and death. The money-grabbing witch and the naïve old man… and so it goes:

-Money was invented to be spent, what else would you do with it?

The rude word would be to call her a whore, but what we have here, in the tradition of the thirties movies, is a true gold-digger. It’s the woman that will drain your wallet, before draining your soul and finally your life. She’s careless, egotistical, vapid and tepid. Else said, she doesn’t give a damn about anything but her own, superfluous, comfort.

As I was previously saying, it’s of interest only for its exploitative nature and the gorgeous talentless Beverly Michaels, it’s pretty futile otherwise. It’s quite motionless. Empty in the sense of motives. Just a broken gold-digger that don’t care for anything but money… and a naïve old man that just seek to find a little affection. She’s a sexy urban gal, so obviously she's poison; he’s an honest rural hard-working man, so of course, he's virtuous. She’ll be the thing that loses him in lust.... and what he'll lose to her is what made him good in the first place, he'll become dishonest for her sake. He’ll even go crazy for her, because that’s where she wants him to be, selfless and irresponsible.

She’ll even turn him deaf; make him her puppet she can guide in this ruthless world. Make him impotent, a slave to her tits. So now he can only communicate in monolog and never hear what others would be saying about her.

But soon thereafter, when he recovers his hearing, he’ll keep on pretending that he is deaf. So he can quit his job, just as she wishes him to. For this “Betty darling” that is always sleeping, always resting to take benefit from those who are awake. That’s another thing about her, she always seem to either be sleeping or tired. He must pretend he’s deaf to justify that he have quit this job. This job he have quit for her, for her that is still, always, sleeping. She’s never hearing anything but the roam of her own voice. Vain she is, but he is naïve and he is without character, so he’ll just let it go, let the power of her wonderful tits guide him in misery. She’s deaf too; more then he pretend to be, for she’s a lazy sleeping log. He’ll hear the call; she’ll be sleeping, so they’ll both have to pretend that life is meaningless.

But now, now that he pretend to be deaf, that his wife think he is as well, he can finally hear what she’s really thinking.

It’s all very stereotypical, quite misogynistic. But it doesn’t say much, it doesn’t lead to anything. It’s short-sighted, too much of its era. There are a few key scenes that save it from being unworthy to be seen… and I’d mention among them the gin-rummy scene toward the end. All nicely done, with chosen photography angle and some fine lines of dialogue.

This movie is entertaining, but it’s not quite a great artistic achievement, to say the least. It’s just the story of a woman who can drive a man to murder… or to die… by the power of her blondeness. It’s been done many times before, and way better. It’s all summed up in this line from Betty:

-I’m desperate, I want to get out. Without money, what can I do? I tried everything. He’s got seventy-three hundreds dollars in the bank. We could go any place from here and be happy together.

-By just pushing him over a cliff? We’d never get away with it.

Those creatures that drive a man mad. That’s what is portrayed here. She’s smoking a cigarette at the tip of her fingers, awaiting, hoping for her husband to be murdered. That’s the whole ordeal here and she just plays it in a most exaggerated fashion. A bit of a novelty act. It’s a small idea extended to a whole screenplay.

Lust and murder. The lines are muddled, but the whole can be fun. It’s just brainless amusement. Entertaining, but empty. One of the last line summarize it all… and that is coming from Betty Baby to the two men in lust(love) with her: “Kill each others”… Then comes the conclusion with the little doggy the main character got, the moral there is simple. He says: “That’s what I should have brought home in the first place”. So, if one has to choose between the woman and the dog, choose the dog.


Anonymous said...

Where can I find a copy of the film, or watch it?

Brigham said...

Just watched this film. I'm not sure it's really a film noir. My belief is that there has to be, at least, a central crime. There really isn't one in this, and the tone is too jokey.

Still, having said that, I enjoyed it. It was amusing. I'm glad to have seen it because I have been using a postcard of the art ("They called her a bad name... and she lived up to it!") for years. It's nice to finally see the film. - Wes Clark

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