movie review: Pushover (1954)

What did you watch? The crime noir film Pushover, starring ultimate noir sap Fred MacMurray and ultimate noir temptress Kim Novak.

Ooh, the guy who got suckered in Double Indemnity and the lady who was part of a murder plot in Vertigo! Yes.

Spoiler – nowhere near as tense as this trailer suggests.

Was “Pushover” noir? ‘cause some of these crime movies- yeah.

If you don’t remember or didn’t see Double Indemnity, it stars Fred MacMurray as an insurance numbers guy who falls for a married woman who needs him to bump off her husband and then collect the insurance. It wasn’t the first crime noir movie but it’s definitely one of the more famous if not one that is quickly referenced in any ‘what is film noir?’ list or article. Vertigo is most remembered for its amazing cinematography notorious for not being able to be replicated properly in any video or broadcast format since its release. Also it’s probably Kim Novak’s most famous role, though one where even she (unfairly) feels like is a great film she just happens to be in despite the wishes of the creative team.

Pushover is Novak’s first (credited) film. She’s Lona, the girlfriend of a criminal who had planned a bank robbery where a guard was killed. With the robbers laying low, the police zero in on Lona via stakeout to see if the criminal planner will show up to her apartment. That’s where MacMurray comes in – he’s Paul, one of the police officers, and he bumps into Lona and they start a relationship. He keeps this from his partner Rick, who is using the stakeout to stalk Lona’s neighbor, Ann. Rick only does a slightly better job than Paul in keeping his hormones in check, but does bump into Ann when she’s harassed by some young guy, and she suspects he’s up to something police-related based on the way Rick takes the punk out in front of her. Unbeknownst to Rick, she’s also seen Paul lurking about and assumes he’s one of Lona’s gentleman callers.

Paul learns of the safeword phrases between Lona and the bank robber, but doesn’t tell Rick when the robber calls Lona for the all clear. He confronts the robber, but in the presence of another officer, Paddy, who had been drinking. He basically blackmails Paddy into taking on the robber with him, and then uses the opportunity to kill the robber claiming he was doing it to defend Paddy. It doesn’t take long for Paddy to realize that not everything is on the up and up with Paul as Paul keeps avoiding their agreed upon stakeout rules, and before he can turn Paul in, Paul shoots him and makes it look like a suicide.

Well, everyone is suspicious. Lona and Paul decide to make a break for it, and kidnap Ann when she sees Paul and is about to call Rick. Paul now finds himself on the waaaaaay wrong side of the law as Rick alone hunts them around the block, with the robber’s car holding the stolen money so close and yet so far for Paul and Lona.

Was it good noir? It was pretty good. The version I saw online was very clean. Everything takes place in two apartments. There’s plenty of drama between the police officers when it should have been just a regular stakeout, a work vacation in a smoke filled room where they can check out the babes while waiting for the criminal element that rarely arrives. You’d think a character like Paul who just bumps into Lona could charm her without having to murder the suspect or one of his own – “hey, I’ll wait for you!” considering that she didn’t seem like a character too attached to having to live a rich life of crime. The character of Lona was very passive – I don’t recall anything suggesting she relished in criminal activities or even needed that money personally. Was Paul just tired of the police grind? Was he dreading more professional nights of draining stakeouts?

We’re graced with the contrasting relationship/courtship of Rick and Ann, where he’s infatuated and she’s smitten and he gets to play hard to get because of the sensitivity of his mission. Plus he can’t spy on her, which is half the fun for him (probably). It’s almost sweet and doesn’t feel thrown in there to pad out the film.

Visually, the outside shots are welcome because the interiors are just bland apartments and the lighting is rarely stark to highlight any tension or emotion. But, at least the actors pull that off well. It’s a good story and performance and well paced, but not anything better or deeper than other noir films before and after.

Novak is for some reason a maligned actress – just someone to critically bash in roles that aren’t that deep to begin with. I’m not sure what the deal is – for her especially, she’ll be mentioned as if she’s this beautiful woman who happens to be in a film as some kind of “it’s great BUT Kim Novak” and you see the film and you don’t see how she’s supposedly dragged it down. But there’s other people in the movie –Dorothy Malone plays Ann. Long before she’d get an Academy Award she was in a lot of b-movies, including The Fast & The Furious, which I mentioned in my ‘underrated MST3K episodes’ post. She appeared in movies with a few of the Rat Pack during her long career. Director Richard Quine was a very talented guy who seemed to do everything behind the scenes (write, direct) and even dated Novak some time after working with her in a couple of films. He directed a few Columbo episodes, so despite making a terrible comedy or at least one that hasn’t aged well (How To Murder Your Wife), he’s okay in  my book. Sadly he ended his own life in 1989.

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