Sunday, November 26, 2006

Pushover (1954)

Streamlined and brisk, Richard Quine's nocturnal 'B' thriller 'Pushover' remains one of noirs lesser-appreciated 'dirty-cop' entries - despite it's boasting strong writing, directing, and two fine lead performances from respectively; Fred MacMurray, in a nice companion piece to his lustful dupe role in Double Indemnity; and fledgling screen siren Kim Novak, who brings a sleek modernity to the noir vixen.

Having fallen for the breathtaking young girlfriend of the vicious bank robber he's assigned to nab, broke middle-aged cop Paul Sheridan (MacMurray) agrees to put kept dame Leona's (Novak) suggested plan into motion - and murder the thug when he sneaks back to collect her, before making his way with her and the thug's ill-gotten gains to the exit from his quiet desperation.

In the cleverly-constructed script (by 'Fugitive' creator Roy Huggins), Sheridan is the one over-seeing the stakeout of Leona's apartment - in anticipation of her man's return from being on the lam - but as the secret lovers near their goal they must navigate dangerous waters - populated with Paul's fellow officers, their hard-nosed captain (an irritating E.G. Marshall), and the object of Paul's partner's affection (Dorothy Malone).

A refreshing and decidedly more romantic variation on the murderous love-triangle blueprint - 'Pushover's Paul and Leona appear to genuinely care for one another.
Not simply a tale of illicit lovers double-crossing each other - 'Pushover's plot concerns a star-crossed pair's attempt to put one over on life itself - leaving their respective stale existences behind for a life of warm love and cold cash - and all to the strains of Arthur Morton's maddeningly catchy score.


Never a scenery-chewer, MacMurray quietly shines in his role - giving a restrained and authentic performance. Addled with bills and complexes, his weary flatfoot aches to break free - and with Leona's insistence that .."Money isn't dirty, just people..", mulls it over, goes against his better judgment, and concludes that the iron's just hot enough. Complementing MacMurray in her debut lead role, Novak delivers the goods - equal parts beauty and raw talent. Sort of a 'fatale-in-training', her Leona is less guilty of treachery than of youthful inexperience - in her scheme to 'rob Peter to pay Paul'.

Showing a real knack for noir, Quine (who's only other genre credit is the passable 'Drive a Crooked Road') keeps his compositions tight, confining - and his streets rain-slicked. His flat 50's cinematography is perfect for showcasing the story's late-night dives, back alleys, and shadow-laced apartments.

Released the same year as 'Shield for Murder', 'Rogue Cop', and 'Private Hell 36', 'Pushover' may prove to be less memorable than those more melodramatic 'cop-gone-bad' entries, but Quine's engrossing and poignant nail-biter does not suffer in comparison.

Written by Dave


  1. Way to go Dave, terrific review
  2. Hey, that's a great review Dave. Interesting, detailed and meaty.
  3. You're right - that score is maddeningly catchy. I'd like to hear a good, full-noir treatment of it. (Strings, lead sax.)

    By the way, I recognize Burbank, CA in it. The L.A. City Hall is shown at the beginning, but the police building is the Burbank City Hall. The theater was the old Magnolia Theater in Burbank. And one shot shows them driving down what I think is Magnolia Blvd. (I'm from Burbank, if you couldn't tell...) - Wes Clark

    p.s. It's cool to hear MacMurray use the "mobile operator." So that's how mobile phones worked back in the early 50's...
  4. oh, i love film noir, gangster movies, police movies. thank you for your wonderful information and movie clips.
  5. I absolutely love this movie, particularly Macmurray's last line.
  6. I recently got to see this film and must say that I enjoyed it a lot. My initial annoyance at the unlikely quickly hot relationship between a very attractive early 20s year old woman and a much older not particularly handsome 40ish man (MacMurray was 46 at the time) was soon overcome by the increasingly developed storyline.

    The spiralling relationship and action (and the usual amazing number of cigarettes smoked) kept me enthralled and the last 10 minutes are certainly gripping. Yes, as some IMDB reviewers point out by way of criticism you can see elements of Double Indemnity and Rear Window in it but I strongly recommend giving the film a go on its own merits.
  7. I'm a fan of flim noir movies. I started watching Bogart's movies then moved to French noir of the 50's and 60's (I speak French) and then back to American and British noirs. To me, The oldest they are, the better. It's a wonderful world!

    I watch this last night. Strangely, I found the pace slightly slower than a tipical noir, the music in the background, the shots outside all reminded me of French Melville's coming movies (specially Two Men in Manhattan, 1959)
  8. I saw this for the first time last week, and really loved it. Still noir but with a twist with the romance that is not false. I loved the use of the windows to frame the different stereotypes [good girl / bad girl]. Underrated without a doubt.
  9. Ha ha, love that bar scene clip. I only saw this movie once about 20 years ago and have never forgotten it.