Pickup on South Street
A pick-pocket gets microfilm and becomes the target of police and Communist spies while forming a relationship with the woman from whom he stole it.
On a crowded commuter train Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) opens the purse of Candy (Jean Peters) and steals her wallet. Zara (Willis Bouchey) sees this and follows her with his partner. She calls Joey (Richard Kiley) and tells him what happened. Joey tells Candy that they have to get that microfilm back.
Captain Dan Tiger (Murvyn Vye) asks Moe Williams (Thelma Ritter) to help with the case, and she questions Zara. She figures out who it is; he is a criminal, and they have his picture. Moe argues with Dan about what he pays her.
Skip lifts a box out of the ocean in a Live Bait shop and puts the microfilm in the box. Detective Winoki (Milburn Stone) and his partner come in, and Skip gives him a beer. Skip goes to the police voluntarily, and Tiger demands to know where the film is. Skip taunts Tiger to hit him again so that he will lose more pay. Zara comes in and says they were following the girl. He tells Skip if he cooperates, he will not be charged. Skip says he did not lift it. Tiger has Skip shown out.
Skip takes the film from the box and puts it in his pocket. Skip sees a man tailing him and steps back into an elevator to lose him. Skip asks for a back issue of the New York Times and uses the machine to look at the film.
In a restaurant Candy pays Lightning Louie money for information, and he sends her to see Moe. Candy asks her who the pick-pocket is, and Moe asks for $50.
Skip finds someone searching the bait shop and knocks down Candy. He goes through her purse and pours beer on her to rouse her. She asks him for her wallet. He caresses her face and questions her. Then he kisses her. He wants to make sure it is her brother Mickey, and he pushes her out. Zara sees her come out and tells Tiger she is the girl. Tiger goes in and offers Skip a clean slate for the film.
Candy tells Joey that Skip knows what is on the film and kept it. Joey does not want to go get it himself, but she says she won’t go back. Joey gives her $500 and tells her to offer him $50 or more and keep the rest. Candy finds Skip on the dock. He admits he has been caught three times. She puts her hands on his chest, and he kisses her. He asks her how much she brought. She says $500, and he gets angry, wanting much more. He says he was caught because she was being watched. He pushes her away and says he wants $25,000.
Candy tells Joey, and two men say that Skip took the $500 out of her bag. She says Skip called her a “Commy.” The men tell her to get the film soon. Candy goes to Moe, who realizes Candy is attracted to Skip too. Moe finds Skip in a café and warns him a guy is gunning for him. She advises him not to help Commies. She says the kid loves him and goes. Moe tries to sell ties and goes home. Joey is there and offers her $500 for the name of the pick-pocket. She says she won’t do business with Commies, and he threatens her. She says he would be doing her a favor, and a shot is heard.
Lt. Campion arrests Skip for Moe’s murder. A police detective tells Campion that Skip could not have done it, and they let him go.
Skip got permission to bury Moe’s coffin and retrieves it from a boat. He finds Candy laying in his hamac. She says that Moe would not give Joey his address. He was ordered to find Skip. He embraces her as she cries. He asks for Joey’s address so that the cops can handle it. He says he better have the $25,000 ready. As he is leaving, she knocks him out and takes the film.
Candy gives the film to Tiger and says Skip sent her. Zara says he followed her and questions her. Candy says she did not know Joey was a Communist agent. Zara tells her to go back with the film so that they can find the man they want. He has her call Joey.
Candy is in the bath when Joey comes in. He asks her why she gave him a phony address. She hands him the film, but he says a frame is missing. He roughs her up to find out where Skip lives. As she is leaving, he shoots her. He climbs into the dumb waiter. Zara comes in, sees she is alive, and has Gibbs call an ambulance. Zara orders the place searched. Gibbs checks the dumb waiter. Joey jumps out and attacks Gibbs, escaping. Zara makes a call and says Gibbs died.
Skip visits Candy in the hospital, and she tells him to get rid of the film. He learns that Joey has his address; but Joey beat her up because she would not tell him where Skip lives. Skip kisses her.
Skip hides as Joey and another man come in. Joey goes to turn over the film while the other man waits for Skip. Skip follows Joey. In the train Skip removes a gun from Joey’s pocket. In a bathroom Joey puts an envelope down, and a man comes in and picks it up. Skip fights him as he is trying to run away.
Skip asks Tiger for his release papers and leaves with Candy. Tiger expects to catch Skip soon, but Candy implies he won’t.
This film noir reflects the interest in spying during the cold war. The implication is that working to help Communists is the worst crime. By having the story revolve around a professonal pick-pocket, the entire mood is pervaded by the underworld of crime.