Not That Kind of Pickup

Pickup Alley’s poster art slices dynamic text through center. “This picture is about dope!” emphatic about drugs as a selling point. Then, in the opening scene, the camera pans through a club – really a drug den – where men passionately kiss women, rock music swells from a jukebox, and kids dance. The horror of the thing, at least from prudish 1950s eyes.

It’s a bit much; Pickup Alley’s scenes of addicts look more akin to something out of the Nixon or Reagan era. Yet, Pickup Alley had a point as morphine addiction rose post-WWII, although this script doesn’t draw that connection directly. Instead, morally questionable women primarily find themselves hooked rather than veterans.

Pickup Alley isn’t much now, if successful in being an anti-drug time capsule

The best part of this PSA-like story is Trevor Howard’s performance as a sketchy if undeniably calm, cool international drug trader. Only as pressure builds in the finale does he finally break, slapping Pickup Alley’s femme fatale, and panicking while running from cops. His character isn’t inventive or new, rather played with a smarmy confidence that makes him utterly unlikable in the best way.

Victor Mature stars as Howard’s opposite, a hardened detective preferring to work alone when grabbing dealers or addicts. He’s not sympathetic to their problems. Pickup Alley’s touring investigation runs through Paris and Italy; Mature comes to accept aid from others, a small character arc. International cooperation saves the world from illicit drugs, bending the film’s American pride for the sake of worldwide betterment. Again, WWII leanings simmer in this story, if not visible on the surface.

A sleazy informant, shadowy rooms, heated interrogations; Pickup Alley uses a litany of cliches. Were it not for the location cinematography (and observant use of the Cinemascope frame), Pickup Alley falls into its B categorization. Quick, exploitative, and familiar work, ending with heroes winning and the bad guys suffering a visually overdrawn death. Pickup Alley isn’t much now, if successful in being an anti-drug time capsule situated between the absurd Reefer Madness and a host of cocaine-fighting ‘80s action epics.


Paired with two other films on the same disc, the moderate transfer massages enough detail under a harsh grain structure to work. A few halos indicate small amounts of sharpening, and that’s likely given the grain’s bite. The print deals with occasional specks and dirt, due for a clean-up pass, although acceptable.

Strong gray scale delivers awesome shadows when needed, with perky brightness on the other end. A late shot in an alley, backlit, marks the best of both. That noir feel is unmistakable. Minimal banding hinders a background or two, undoubtedly because of compression. Mill Creek’s compression routine holds out otherwise.


A mess of scratchy dialog and grating music. DTS-HD can’t help, stuck delivering audio akin to having a cheese grater rubbed into your ears. Treble runs so high as to lose any fidelity. Early on, Pickup Alley stages a club sequence with a musical performance, and the lyrics sound destroyed by age.

No pop or static is noted though. Maybe some restoration happened, if not soon enough.



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Pickup Alley
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A fair noir story about drugs, addicts, and heroes, Pickup Alley works as a minor thriller with fantastic cinematography.

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