Because Our Underworld Is World Class
New York magazine|December 6-19, 2021
Samuel Fuller (1912–1997) became a newspaper copy boy when he was just 12. By the time he was 17, he was working the murder beat for the New York Evening Graphic, a tabloid so lurid it was known as the New York Pornographic. Fuller knew a good lede when he saw one.
By Mark Jacobson

It was a talent he carried over to a filmmaking career that saw him turn out 20 potboilers between 1949 and 1965, movies with testosterone-drizzled titles like The Steel Helmet (1951) and Forty Guns (1957). All of them had good ledes (just watch the beginning of The Naked Kiss). But for me, the first two minutes and 35 seconds of Pickup on South Street (1953) is the top, the best NYC-centric opening sequence in film history.

It’s rush hour on the uptown IRT on a hot summer day. The camera settles on a dark-haired woman in a tight white dress. Looking a little cheap, this is Candy (most Fuller heroines are named Candy or Muffin), played by Jean Peters, who would soon marry Howard Hughes. Sweating through the layered rouge on her cheeks, Candy stares off into space, unaware of the two men, cops, likely, watching her.

Then here he comes: Richard Widmark, in his fedora, making his way through the crowd of straphangers, on the hunt. The then-39-year-old actor plays Skip McCoy, a pickpocket by trade, or, in the vernacular of Fuller’s tabloid cosmos, a “cannon.” Skip moves close to Candy, near enough to grope her. A moll lost in her own problems, Candy doesn’t notice as Skip opens her pocketbook, his cat’s-paw fingertips casually rummaging through her intimate belongings. Landing on a billfold, he gently removes it from the bag using a folded newspaper to shield his mendacity. The train stops at 33rd Street, and before the two cops can react, Skip bounds out the subway door. Save the ever-present rumble of the train, Fuller’s lede plays out as a wordless dance of the Big City.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine