The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - PICKUP ALLEY (1957) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - PICKUP ALLEY (1957)

pickup alley review
A DEA agent tracks a British drug baron across Europe.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: John Gilling

Starring: Victor Mature, Anita Ekberg, Trevor Howard, Bonar Colleano, Andrรฉ Morell, Sid James

pickup alley bluray

Before securing the rights to a series of novels by Ian Fleming and making his fortune with a franchise that continues to pack cinemas today, 007 producer Albert R. Broccoli had something of a dry run with Pickup Alley. Released elsewhere as 'Interpol', it's an rudderless crime drama that establishes the globe-trotting format that would later be more fruitfully applied to the Bond movies.

pickup alley review

Directed by British genre stalwart John Gilling (The Flesh & The Fiends; Plague of the Zombies), Pickup Alley begins in familiar Noir territory - the streets and nightclubs of New York City, where DEA agent Charles Sturgis (Victor Mature) wages a one-man war against the illegal drug trade. Sturgis is on a quest to avenge the death of his sister (Dorothy Alison), strangled by British drug kingpin Frank McNally (Trevor Howard) when she was on the cusp of informing the NYPD of his whereabouts. Receiving a tip that McNally has returned to London, Sturgis convinces the agency to allow him to travel to Europe and track down the drug baron.

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It's the sort of set-up that would later be adopted by 1970s thrillers like Brannigan and French Connection II, in which gruff American lawmen rub up against old world mobsters. What distinguished those movies was a rigid focus on their central characters, something Pickup Alley badly lacks. We never really get to know who Sturgis is, and he has arguably less screen time than the man he's after, Howard's McNally.

pickup alley review

Closer to being the movie's central protagonist is Anita Ekberg's Gina Broger, the young woman McNally keeps under his control. After banjaxing a hit on McNally's second in command, Salko (Alec Mango), Broger is sent on a series of errands picking up and transporting a macguffin across various Mediterranean cities. The trouble is, Broger is equally blandly written, and it's never made clear why she allows McNally to hold her in his grip.

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Howard is certainly the film's MVP, and he enlivens the otherwise drab drama playing McNally as an irredeemable toerag. He gets the best line of a largely functional script too. When asked by Borger to send the assembled revellers at his home away so she can tell him about her foiled assassination attempt, McNally replies "I couldn't break up the party now; it only started yesterday." The movie seems to think McNally is a lot more charming and physically attractive than he is as embodied by Howard. Along with having a woman like Borger at his beck and call, every female extra who passes McNally in the street seems to check out his ass as he walks by!

pickup alley review

The 007-esque travelogue format sees the action move from New York to London, continuing on to Lisbon, Rome, Naples and Athens, and I was amazed to read in the closing credits that Pickup Alley had actually been shot in those very locations. A single Mediterranean city could easily have passed for all four with a few street sign changes - Roger Corman would have had a coronary seeing a budget wasted in this manner! - and with the movie shot in black and white, filming in such sunny locales all seems a bit pointless. Like many of the Bond movies, this city-hopping narrative is largely used to disguise a paper-thin plot, and here it serves to complicate and distract from what should be a thrilling cat and mouse Noir. Of course, for a cat and mouse thriller to work you need to be on the side of the mouse, which in this case is McNally, a rodent that nobody could sympathise with.

Writer Josephine Botting discusses the film's production company, Warwick Films; a look at the career of director John Gilling; US theatrical release prologue by Congressman Hale Boggs, Chairman of the US Senate Committee of Narcotics; theatrical trailer and TV spot; image gallery; booklet with a newly commissioned essay by British cinema scholar Robert Murphy.

Pickup Alley is on blu-ray now from Arrow Academy.