image. In PICK UP ON SOUTH STREET, Thelma Ritter, as ‘Mo’, has a terrific scene which she plays brilliantly.
She’s in her small apartment ,sitting on her bed with her glasses on,scribbling in a notebook ,toting up whatever money she has made that day.She looks very tired.

Suddenly the camera moves a little to the left and we see a pair of men’s shoes resting on the side of the bed. It’s Richard Kiley.
She can’t even muster up a scream, or even show much surprise.image

“What are you buying,mister?”, she says.
He throws $100 on the bed sheet ,then $500 to encourage her to disclose the whereabouts of Richard Widmark.
“What’s this guy made of – diamonds?”
Kiley gets angry.
“You’d sell anybody for buttons”.

Thelma keeps talking, almost as if he isn’t there.
“You seen an old clock running down? I’m tired .My back aches,,headaches,I can’t sleep nights.
I have to go on living so I can die.”

‘Mo’ seals her own fate when she reveals she knows why Kiley wants Widmark.

He pulls a gun. She clutches her neck, her lips quiver. In the background is the sound of a crooner’s voice coming from the old record player sitting next to her bed.

“So I don’t get to have a fancy funeral after all.anyway, I tried.
I ‘m so tired you’ll be doing me a big favor if you blow my head off.”
image. The camera moves slowly to the left and the record player comes into view. A shot rings out as the record clicks off.

What a great scene, written by Samuel Fuller, and giving Thelma the opportunity to show just how good she was.

6 responses »

  1. You’re right, that IS a terrific little scene, Vienna, and you describe it very well. And Thelma makes the most of it, as she always does, no matter how brief it was. What a great presence…she brightened up (some would say “stole”) every movie she appeared in with her no-nonsense personality. I love her especially in REAR WINDOW.

    • Thanks,Jeff.
      I agree Thelma was great too in Rear Window. She’s terrific too in all About Eve, though it’s always been a mystery why Thelma ,as Birdie, disappears half way through this classic.

  2. One of the greatest scene stealing character actresses around – that sequence in Pickup on South Street that you’ve highlighted is loaded with pathos and Ritter really milked it for all it was worth.

    • I love the fact that writers/directors appreciated the importance of good character actors and what they could contribute .
      Sounds like you think maybe Thelma overdid it – or maybe ‘milking it’ means something different to you?

      • Oh no, not at all. I forgot the negative connotations of the phrase, that’s all. I think she played the scene out perfectly – her performance draws viewer sympathy throughout, but that one one particular just grabs you emotionally and doesn’t let go.

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