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Written by Timothy Sexton
"Are you waving the flag at me?"
McCoy may be immoral (he is a pickpocket by trade) but he most definitely apolitical. Purely by accident, McCoy has used his magic fingers to extricate a highly sensitive roll of microfilm containing high level American secrets that were in the process of being passed to the communists. McCoy doesn’t care about communism or democracy for that matter. He’s not the kind of guy unwilling to play footsie with the Reds if there is money in it nor is he willing to play footsie with the Americans if there’s nothing in it for him. Which the American agents learn quite quickly courtesy of this resonant little quote.
“So you're a Red, who cares? Your money's as good as anybody else's.”
Just in case there was any lingering doubt as to whether Skip’s color of choice is red, white, blue or any combination of the three, he lets it be known straight up that his preference is always for green and he doesn’t care which shade of pink or lack thereof the person is from whence he gets his greedy little mitts on that green. In a very real way, this quite reveals that Skip McCoy is really nothing more nor than less than the essence of capitalism after it has boiled down and removed of every last remaining ounce of conscience. His slogan could apply equally well to nimble-fingered pickpocket and to global conglomerate willing to do business with anyone of any political stripe as long as there is profit to be mined.
"What kind of talk is that, calling me a stoolie? I was brought up to report any injustice to the police authority. I call that being a solid citizen."
The murky quality of morality that permeates throughout Pickup on South Street is further cemented in the character of Moe, an aging female stoolie. But, as she herself points out, where does one draw the line between being a stool pigeon and responsible citizenship? Moe will gladly take your money for useful information on the whereabouts or identity of a criminal-type today, but just as surely she may withhold that information from another type of person making the exact same inquiry tomorrow. Let’s just say Moe is the real McCoy when it comes to skipping over her stoolie status when the inquiry is being made by someone threatening the country that allows her to make a living engaging in exactly that sort of information transaction.
"If you refuse to cooperate you'll be as guilty as the traitors who gave Stalin the A-bomb."
Well, not really. But the quote does point up exactly how patriotism is so very often used as a tool of propaganda to help law enforcement officials get done what they themselves are incapable of doing. Unfortunately for them, this tactic is a non-starter in cases of totally apolitical criminals like Skip McCoy.
Moe: You got any Happy Money?
Candy: Happy Money?
Moe: Yeah, money that's gonna make me happy.
Another glimpse into the gunky, gooey, almost chewy morass of morality that provides the underbelly for the narrative of the film to play out upon. One of the messages that Pickup on South Street seems to be trying to get across is that you can’t rely upon an expectation of morality among the dispossessed to ensure the democracy is kept together…but you can probably depend upon them for the prolonged maintenance of free enterprise and capitalism regardless of the system of governance that oversees the practice of such economic theories.
“Sometimes you look for oil, you hit a gusher.”
A gusher is exactly lies ahead for Skip in the not-too-distant future. Ultimately, the American agents and the cops who try to sell Skip on his patriotic duty as a means of doing the right thing (or, in other words, doing the thing they want him to have done) are looking to sink their derrick into a dry hole when right across the way there is a lode of oil just waiting to gush all over him and deliver the goods they are waiting for. That lode is Skip’s desire for Candy which ends with a gush of doing the right thing.
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