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by Jay Seaver

"Hmm, this seems familiar..."
4 stars

Nearly every description I've seen of "Pushover" describes it as a sort of lesser version of "Double Indemnity", and that's a fair assessment. Of course, that was likely a more pardonable sin when this film was released in 1954 than it is now. It's not as though someone standing at the box office fifty years ago could really say "screw it, I'll just rent that instead".

The film opens with a daylight bank robbery that leaves a guard dead, and then moves to a Paul Sheridan (Indemnity's Fred MacMurray) and a Lona McLane (Kim Novak) meeting cute at a movie. She's dressed expensively, he doesn't talk down to her, and they seem to get on. He's not who he says he is, though - he's a detective who knows her to be the girlfriend of the bank robber. He's convinced that she doesn't know where he's hiding, but he's also convinced he'll come for her. His lieutenant, Carl Eckstrom (E.G. Marshall), agrees to set up surveillance on her apartment, complete with a tapped phone, a car outside, and police taking up residence in a vacant apartment across the way. Despite this monitoring, he manages to surreptitiously continue seeing her, even after she realizes he's a cop. It's not necessarily that hard - Sheridan's partner Rick McAllister (Philip Carey) frequently finds his gaze drawn to Lona's next-door neighbor, nurse Ann Stewart (Dorothy Malone).

The specifics of the events are different, but it's a familiar template - a man who has lived a straight-arrow life is pulled further and further from the straight and narrow by a temptress, with his only obstacle a colleague who has no reason to suspect him but is too earnest to not notice that something isn't right. Still, even if the plot's familiar, there's fascination to the corruption as a process. Sheridan initially gets pulled into a web of deception because he's a little too decent; spending time with someone he should just consider a suspect or accomplice causes him to develop feelings for her as a woman. Once she gets her hooks in him, though, his fall is just the right speed - his morality doesn't suddenly switch off, but he consistently sinks just a bit further than we expect at the moment.

That we're surprised by his fall speaks well for MacMurray; he's got just enough time to establish himself as an honest, decent cop before the film starts tearing it down; we buy his descent but we're still able to hold out hope that he'll reverse course. He's conflicted, but never indecisive. It's easy to see him conflicted, of course, when he's playing against Kim Novak. Novak gets her femme fatale on as Lona, notably resenting any aspersions cast upon her while being coolly amoral about the source of her comfortable life ("Money isn't dirty. Just people."). As cool as she starts out, she tenses up nicely as the surveillance goes on and on and she finds herself between the two men. It's her first major role, and it's not surprising she would later make the A list. Philip Carey is nice as a guy showing that good-hearted doesn't mean stupid, and Dorothy Malone makes a nice ingenue.

Perhaps part of the reason the actors shine so well is that director Richard Quine was an actor who moved behind the camera in 1950. In the late fifties and early sixties, he would direct a string of comedies more remembered for having good casts (frequently including Novak and/or Jack Lemmon) than as actual classics, but he can keep a B thriller on the right track. He's aided by a screenplay from Roy Huggins, who would soon move to television to create and write series from Maverick and The Fugitive to Hunter. It's the sort of precise film where the characters get out blueprints and diagrams so that the audience knows exactly how tight the net around Lona is and what Sheridan will have to avoid. It's the sort of procedural detail crime fans eat up and it makes the characters' attempt to solve these puzzles a game that the audience can play along with.

"Pushover" is a fun B noir, just as notable for being notable - Fred MacMurray in something close to his best role, and Kim Novak's first credited appearance - as being good... Even though it holds up okay in that department.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15050&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/22/06 22:58:24
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User Comments

6/28/10 Bob Gilmore One of the better films of the 50's phase of the noir cycle; could have just as easily been 4 stars
4/23/08 brian DD without poetry. 3 stars
7/29/07 Miguel Mantero good noir film good kim novak 5 stars
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  06-Aug-1954 (NR)
  DVD: 06-Jul-2010



Directed by
  Richard Quine

Written by
  Roy Huggins

  Fred MacMurray
  Philip Carey
  Kim Novak
  E.G. Marshall
  Dorothy Malone
  Allen Nourse

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