Friday, May 24, 2024

Pickup Alley (1957)

Pickup Alley is a 1957 British crime thriller directed by John Gilling. It’s a movie that has, quite unfairly, fallen through the cracks.

Gilling wrote and directed a huge number of modestly budgeted crime pictures in the 50s and then made a lot of movies for Hammer in the 60s. All of his 50s movies (in fact all of his movies) are worth seeing and some are very good indeed. Like this movie Gilling has been very unfairly neglected. He knew how to make consistently enjoyable movies.

Part of Pickup Alley’s problem may be the title which might lead the unwary to assume it’s going to be film noir. It isn’t. There’s also the fact that it has at times been released under a bewildering variety of tiles - Dope, Half Past Hell, The Most Wanted Woman and Interpol. Interpol was the original British title and has the advantage of telling us what the movie is actually all about.

Pickup Alley is a crime thriller that goes to great lengths to achieve an international feel. It moves from the U.S. to London to Lisbon to Naples to Athens. The multi-national cast also helps - the three leads include an American (Victor Mature), a Briton (Trevor Howard) and a Swede (Anita Ekberg). The international feel is achieved quite successfully and manages to persuade us that we really are in a series of exotic locations (and there obviously was some location shooting). I just have to mention that Gina travels to Lisbon by flying boat - I just love seeing flying boats in movies!

Charles Sturgis (Victor Mature) works for the American Bureau of Narcotics. His kid sister was murdered by an international dope peddler named McNally (Trevor Howard). McNally is a mystery man - nobody even knows what he looks like or what name he might now be using. Nonetheless there is a tenuous lead and Sturgis jets off to Europe to follow it up.

There’s another important murder early on. A sleazy criminal is shot to death by Gina Broger (Anita Ekberg). Gina is involved in McNally’s rackets and McNally assures her she doesn’t need to worry that the murder might be traced to her as long as she’s a good girl and does what he tells her. What he wants her to do now is to deliver a package to Lisbon.

Unfortunately for Gina Scotland Yard is not totally incompetent, and she left some fingerprints behind at the murder scene. Gina is now Sturgis’s best chance of tracking down McNally.

Unfortunately for Sturgis McNally isn’t totally stupid either, and Sturgis has been marked for elimination if he starts to get too close.

This is very much a police procedural, and a good one, with quite a bit of action thrown in as well. Gilling’s early films were well-crafted but low-budget and rather low-key. This movie offered him the chance to do something a bit more expansive and try his hand at action scenes (which he handles very skilfully). It was also an opportunity for him to demonstrate his ability to make a movie that looks much more expensive than it actually was.

This was a Warwick Films picture so it really did have a reasonable budget.

Victor Mature is excellent as the embittered and rather impetuous Sturgis. Mature has slowly gained some respect as an actor in recent years but he deserves even more. Anita Ekberg is very good and certainly adds glamour as the femme fatale-ish Gina. The movie however belongs to Trevor Howard. He’s dazzling - by turns charming, calculating, menacing and cruel. McNally is a great and extremely colourful villain.

Also helping things along is the presence of some of my favourite British character actors such as André Morell, Eric Pohlmann, Sydney Tafler and Sid James (yes, that Sid James, who was a fine character actor before achieving fame as a comic genius).

Pickup Alley is typical John Gilling - very well-made and very entertaining. Highly recommended.

The Arrow Academy Blu-Ray offers a lovely 16:9 enhanced transfer (the movie was shot in the ’scope ratio) and shows off the impressive black-and-white cinematography.

I’ve reviewed a stack of John Gilling’s movies, including the excellent crime film The Embezzler (1954), the underrated and somewhat noirish The Challenge (AKA It Takes a Thief, 1960) and the solid spy thriller Deadly Nightshade (1953). I’ve also reviewed what are arguably his best movies, his two 1966 gothic horror movies for Hammer, The Plague of the Zombies (1966) and The Reptile (1966).


  1. Well, this is going straight to the top of the list! Awesome cast, and sounds like my kind of movie

    1. If it's directed by John Gilling it's pretty much an automatic purchase for me. I find him to be extraordinarily consistent.

    2. Funnily enough, by coincidence, I've just watched an episode of The Champions that he directed - pretty good job!

    3. A totally reliable director.