Maybe it is my naiveté which comes from my (relative) youth, but I think that the great character actress, Thelma Ritter, is often overlooked in discussions of great performers of mid-twentieth century cinema. Happily during her heyday her talent was not overlooked by her peers – she was nominated to an astounding 7 Academy Awards. While she did not have the fortune to take home good ol’ Oscar, this fact in of itself says all that needs to be said about the type of actress she was.
In her first screen role (uncredited) she played a frustrated mom on line at Macy’s in the holiday classic A Miracle on 34th Street. But for my money one of her most memorable roles was not in favorites such as Rear Window, Pillow Talk, etc. but in her role as the down and out “stoolie” from another NYC street, Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street. While on the surface she is a woman who seems to be willing to do anything for a buck, you cannot help but feel sympathy for her when tragedy strikes and her one wish in life is left unfulfilled.
Otherwise relegated to the role of a domestic she was equally funny, loyal and tough when she needed to be. She also had the ability to be the lens by which the audience sees the truth in a situation, even if the characters around her were for a time oblivious. (Note: Let us remember most of the time, chiefly in the films of the 20th century, that was the role of the “domestic character.”)
So my recommendation is for anyone who has not heard of her to do a Netflix, Youtube, whatever search of her. You will be happy you did.
Love your site, I have to agree with you on Thelma Ritter, she has always impressed me, especially so with Pickup on South Street. Stoolies are generally hated in noir, but she played a stoolie who still garnered respect from her criminal friends, who understood why she sold them out. In a lesser actresses hands it would have been unbelievable but she had the sassy mouth, street smarts and charisma to pull it off. A brilliant actress whose name should not be forgotten.