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Written by Timothy Sexton
Skip McCoy is the human MacGuffin of Pickup on South Street. Alfred Hitchock used the term MacGuffin to describe the thing that every character in a movie is after, but which ultimately takes a backseat to the real focus of the story, which is the characters themselves. Some might suggest that the microfilm which pickpocket Skip McCoy unwittingly extricates from a pocketbook in the scene that kicks off the movie is the MacGuffin, but that little goodie is the genuine focus of everything that happens. McCoy gets himself involved in international espionage and the alleged Communist threat to the democracy purely by accident. As a result, everybody is soon after him. He is the accidental MacGuffin.
Candy is a mule. Meaning that she is furtively delivering secretive information contained on microfilm for her boyfriend. The main problem here—aside from the obvious—is that Candy is under the impression she is merely engaging in a sort of industrial espionage for her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend. What Candy does not know is that her boyfriend is a communist spy and the microfilm that Skip McCoy accidentally lifts from her purse when he targets her for his pickpocketing skills contains high level government secrets.
Moe is a stoolie. Of course, the old lady takes exception to such a distinctly one-dimensional characterization of the service she supplies to the police. After all, everybody’s got to eat and nobody forced anyone to stick to a life of crime even if circumstances may have originally forced them into it. Moe is a character, all right, and even though she—like Candy and some others—cannot resist the sly charm of Skip McCoy, she is also not above selling him out for the right price. In fact, Moe is not above selling out Skip twice when she reasons it is worth the effort, but when it is not, she’s also willing to make the kind of huge sacrifice that does, indeed, belie that simplistic characterization of her as some sort of Elia Kazan stoolie of the lowest order.
Joey is Candy’s ex-boyfriend who has been using her to pass high level government secrets to the communists. Even though he may be dealing in the higher sphere of criminal activity—working in the international intrigue as he does—Joey turns out to be every bit as much a low-life thug as pickpocket Skip. In fact, he may be even more of a low-life and his lack of character suggests nothing whatever to do his political leanings. He is simply a psychopath.
Zara is an agent of the U.S. government who is on the subway conducting surveillance of Candy when Candy is approached by Skip and has her pocketbook picked. Zara isn’t sure exactly what went on, but he knows trouble big time has just encroached into his carefully plotted plan to catch Joey and his lousy pinko buddies. Zara tries to track down Skip, but to no avail, so his next step is to hit the local police station.
Captain Dan Tiger
The local police station is where Agent Zara meets Captain Tiger. Captain Tiger assists in the government investigation into the passing of top secret information to the communists by Joey through Candy by bringing into Moe to help narrow down the list of likely pickpockets who extricated the microfilm from Candy’s pocketbook. Sound complicated? Not really, as the cast of the characters are populated by actors who very clearly distinguish their roles from each other and create a wonderfully quirky ensemble cast to tell the movie’s story of low-life, low-level criminals matching wits high-level masters of international intrigue.
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