1957 crime film Pick-Up Alley kicks off in such a way that it can’t help but bring forth a certain amount of intrigue. A glossy, well-dressed dame makes a hushed phone call to the authorities about some underhanded criminal activity that she is aware of. As the city lights strobe on and off in the background, she informs the recipient of the call of the mastermind behind the dope deal that she appears to be a part of. While she details the call, a man enters the room and begins to listen with interest. We the audience already know who this man is. The man knows who the woman is calling. We try to swallow the tension as the man proceeds to commit a violent act that incites the rest of the movie. It’s a simple scene, but a taut one. It directed in a way to get the juices running. This is how you start a crime film.
When the bar is raised early it’s difficult to keep the pace, and Pick-Up Alley (also known as Interpol) is swift off the blocks, but quickly trundles to a steady trot. An embittered cop who embarks on a globetrotting one-man crusade to capture the drug kingpin who killed his sister is a pretty simple set up, and director John Gilling doesn’t do too much to shake things up. This long-unseen feature has the ingredients to be great, but Gilling doesn’t give everything enough flavour to be truly fulfilling.
One of the most important names on the film’s credits is of its producer: Mr. Albert R Broccoli, known to many people not only by his nickname “Cubby” but also for his hand in producing a little-known spy series based on the books by one Ian Fleming. The international jet-setting aspect that inhabits Pick-Up Alley is fascinating to observe because while the balance of exotic locations and espionage come good in Terence Young’s Dr No (1962), Pick-Up Alley almost becomes a test run. The film jumps from New York to Rome to Athens with cinematographer Ted Moore ensuring that the environments of the locations are noted and detailed. The casting of Anita Ekberg is a coup. Three years from the role which made her known, La Dolce Vita (1960), seeing Ekberg within the locales while sporting outfits that clearly make her stand out and look out of place make her casting almost feel like a prototype for a Bond girl – although so many of the females who have appeared in Bond films have been more interesting, even if it was merely a breathless utterance of their name. Ekberg is little more than a Hoodlum’s Moll: only present to look pretty and guilty; a far cry from so many other noirs and crime films of the era.
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Victor Mature’s hardened narcotic agent Charles Strugis could also be an example of Bond before Bond, albeit without the charm and quips. Mature’s performance is so devoid of charisma that it’s difficult to root for his plight. It’s only his jaw that’s meant to be as tough as granite. If there’s any energy to be had from the cast, it stems from Bonar Colleano’s quick-talking informer Amalio, who livens proceedings up from the second act. Props should also be given to Trevor Howard who plays the cultured villain of the piece. It’s a performance of arrogance and pomp as well as a touch of the exotic and camp. Again, look at most Bond villains and you’ll see the traits within the performance.
Despite its locations, some dynamic visuals and some obligatory chases and punch-ups, the whole film is rather perfunctory. Pick-Up Alley is a film that never has too much to say and isn’t filled with enough to truly excite. Save for a couple of brief scenes with one Sid James, not in a Carry On… movie. By the end of the film’s rather drab ending it feels all a bit like a dull all-inclusive holiday. We get a few points of interest, a couple of dynamic sights, but by the end, it’s all a bit flat and forgotten.
Pick-Up Alley is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy.