Pickup on South Street is an unexpectedly dense thriller that commences with a pickpocketing theft and appears as though it will be little more than a standard film noir. By the time it comes to a conclusion, you will realize that you have just witnessed an example of a Red Scare movie; a genre that attempted to instill fear of communists lurking around every corner.
In the hands of less talented directors, Red Scare movies are today quite laughable. Pickup on South Street retains its power because Fuller is a great talent. The criminal act that gives the movie its title turns down an ideological dark alley that provides the audience with one of Richard Widmark's early performances that made him a star. His petty pickpocket is a stand-in for every American of the era who might unwittingly find himself lurched headlong into communist espionage.
Much of the reason behind Samuel Fuller's film being able to last well past its time without becoming a joke is that the good guys representing capitalism are every bit as questionable in character as their communist counterparts. That is an aspect of Red Scare films very difficult to find.