Microfilm in the Movies: Pickup on South Street


Poster for Pickup on South Street, starring Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, and Thelma Ritter.

On a crowded subway, Skip McCoy picks the purse of Candy.   Among his take, although he does not know it at the time, is a piece of top-secret microfilm that was being passed by Candy’s consort, a Communist agent. Candy discovers the whereabouts of the film through Moe Williams, a police informer. She attempts to seduce McCoy to recover the film. She fails to get back the film and falls in love with him.  The desperate agent exterminates Moe and savagely beats Candy. McCoy, now goaded into action, confronts the agent in a particularly brutal fight in a subway.


Jean Peters (Candy) and Richard Widmark (Skip McCoy) on the subway.

Despite great acting from Richard Widmark (Skip McCoy), Jean Peters (Candy), and Thelma Ritter (Moe Williams), the star of this 1953 dark thriller is the microfilm.  The entire movie revolves around it.  There is a great scene where Skip goes to the New York Public Library to view the film with a microfilm machine that by today’s standards is wonderfully old.  It is at the NYP that he discovers the Communist connection to the film he has stolen and realizes that he can now manipulate the authorities who are after him.

As many of you know, both microfilm and microfilm machines are near and dear to historians and archivists.  Despite all the advances in digital technology, archival quality microfilm is still the preferred method to preserve copies of historic documents long term.

The Cambridge Public Library’s microfilm machine is used by patrons every day.  We have all the Cambridge Chronicles from 1846 to 2009 available, along with city directories and tax registers.  We also have several copies of Pick up on South Street available here:  http://library.minlib.net/search~S9/?searchtype=t&searcharg=pickup+on+south+street&searchscope=9&SORT=D&extended=0&SUBMIT=Search&searchlimits=&searchorigarg=tpick+up+on+south+street.  Stop by the library anytime to take out the movie or use our microfilm collection.


A Microfilm machine similar to the one featured in Pickup on South Street, courtesy of Brockport College Archives.

Works Cited
Movie summary taken from IMDB.com:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0046187/.

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