Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Richard Quine|
|Produced by||Jules Schermer|
|Screenplay by||Roy Huggins|
|Based on||based upon stories by Thomas Walsh
and William S. Ballinger
|Music by||Arthur Morton|
|Cinematography||Lester H. White, A.S.C.|
|Edited by||Jerome Thoms, A.C.E.|
Columbia Pictures Corporation
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures Corporation|
Pushover is a 1954 American film noir crime film directed by Richard Quine starring Fred MacMurray, Phil Carey and Kim Novak in her first credited role. The motion picture was adapted from two novels, The Night Watch by Thomas Walsh and Rafferty by William S. Ballinger.
This film opens with a bank robbery during which a bank guard, in attempting to wrest a pistol from one of the two robbers, is shot and killed by the robber's accomplice.
We next see Lona McLane (Kim Novak), a young woman, alone, in a mink coat, leave a movie theatre and walk to her car. When she tries to start it, it won't turn over, but almost immediately Paul Sheridan (Fred MacMurray) appears at her window to offer his assistance. He spends the evening with her as they call a mechanic, stop for a drink at a bar, repair to his apartment, and, presumably, have sex while waiting for her car to be fixed.
In the morning, Sheridan appears at his office, a police precinct, where we discover he is a cop who has been dispatched to see what he can find out from Miss McLane, the erstwhile girlfriend of Harry Wheeler (Paul Richards), a man previously known to the police and identified as the principal bank robber. Sheridan is presented as an honest cop who, along with his partner Rick McAllister (Phillip Carey) and a number of his other associates, has been tasked by his boss, Police Lieutenant Karl Eckstrom (E.G. Marshall), to recover the stolen $200,000 and to capture Wheeler alive so the police will be able to find out from him who his accopplice is. Among Sheridan's other associates is Paddy Dolan (Allen Nourse), who has a drinking problem but is well-liked and nearing retirement. As such he's in danger of losing his pension if he screws up again, and Lt. Eckstrom has asked Sheridan to watch out for him so that he doesn't screw up. He and other officers maintain 24-hour surveillance on Lona McLane in her apartment from a stakeout apartment they rent, conveniently, across the courtyard and from the driver's seat of a car parked outside the apartment building.
Sheridan quickly falls for Lona, who, when she figures out from his manner and his questions about Wheeler that he's a cop, is at first furious, but quickly melts in Sheridan's arms, professing her love for him. She then tries to persuade him to kill Wheeler so the two can take off with the loot. At first he seems insulted and angrily resists—he's been an honest cop— but also because he now believes he's the one being used. He orders her to leave his apartment where they have met for an assignation.
Sheridan then is shown to brood, in hallways and in his apartment stakeout, smoking cigarette after cigarette, as, one gathers, he mulls over the proposition Lona has made him. After a bit he caves and they meet in the basement of the building where he agrees to mastermind Wheeler's murder and the theft of the bank's money.
Meanwhile, Sheridan's associate, Rick McAllister, has been watching through his binoculars not only Lona in her apartment but also a woman in the apartment next door, who turns out to be a nurse, Ann Stewart (Dorothy Malone). Rick has become fascinated, perhaps infatuated with her as she bustles about the house hanging drapes and doing calisthenics, but Rick only admits to feeling paternal towards her.
At all events, as Sheridan's plot unfolds, things go awry. Suffrice it to say, losing contact with Lona he goes to her apartment to look for her. She's not there but Miss Stewart, who's having a little party next door, goes to Lona's apartment to ask to borrow some ice. Just as she's about to knock, Sheridan opens the door to leave and encounters Miss Stewart. He rudely refuses her request and quickly closes the door, but she has clearly seen him and will no doubt remember him.
The denoument is intricate and cleverly constructed. Naturally, other things go awry. As planned, Wheeler shows up, betrayed by Lona, and is nabbed by Sheridan but, because Paddy wasn't at his post as he should have been, Sheridan, who has agreed to hide Paddy's dereliction of duty, now has Paddy in tow. Sheridan and Paddy force Wheeler to take them to Wheeler's car where he's stowed the bag of money in the trunk. As Paddy leans in the trunk to inspect the bag, Sheridan pushes Wheeler onto Paddy and shoots Wheeler dead, claiming to Paddy that he had no choice since Wheeler had jumped Paddy and swift action was necessary.
Paddy's no dummy and figures out that Sheridan is not protecting Paddy just because he wants to save Paddy's pension but also because he wants the $200,000. Paddy, though a screw-up, is eminently honest and vows to tell the lieutenant what has transpired, which would at this point only mean Sheridan wouldn't get the money. When Sheridan moves across the front seat to prevent Paddy from opening the car door, Paddy pulls his pistol. There's a struggle and Paddy is shot in the stomach and killed.
Not long thereafter Miss Stewart, taking out the garbage, has another chance encounter in the hall with Sheridan, whom she recognizes, and goes back to her apartment to call the police. Sheridan manages to force Miss Stewart and Lona, who has now returned, to accompany him to Wheeler's car where he believes the money still resides. Does he make it?
Almost all the action takes place at night, in the rain, in cars driving on the streets of some city (never identified), and in the U-shaped apartment building where Lona and Ann Stewart live and where the cops have their stakeout. There's an almost incredible amount of cigarette smoking going on, and all love-making is implied. The plot is intricate but relatively easy to follow and almost believable, were in not for the fact that in 1954 crime movies had to end in such a way as not to suggest crime pays.
- Character names are not indicated in on-screen cast credits
The film was known during shooting as The Killer Wore a Badge. MacMurray's fee was $75,000. The outdoor scenes were filmed on the streets of Burbank, California. Prominent, is the old Magnolia Theater, on Magnoila Street. This film has a lot of good classic car shots, for those who enjoy them.
Most critics seemed to find the film's plot similar to other film noir, with some specifically comparing it to Double Indemnity. The New York Times review pointed out, "Fred MacMurray is going through the motions of his 'Double Indemnity' role in a mild facsimile."
However, Kim Novak is usually singled out as a rising photogenic star. Chicago Reader film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote, "An aging cop (Fred MacMurray) falls in love with a bank robber's girlfriend (Kim Novak in her first major role, and if you're as much of a pushover for her early work as I am, you can't afford to miss this)."
Film critic Craig Butler wrote, "Aficionados will doubtlessly argue whether The Pushover should be classified as film noir or merely as a suspense film, but whichever its category, this overlooked movie deserves to be better known. Not that it's a great film, for it's not—the characters don't develop fully enough, remaining just film types rather than flesh and blood people, the themes of the film are not explored deeply enough to have resonance, and there's a late development that asks the audience to change its mind about the leading lady that just doesn't work. Still, it's immensely entertaining, skillfully directed by Richard Quine with the requisite suspense trappings (and a wonderfully unsettling sense of voyeurism), and covering a lot of territory in its 88 minutes."
Critic Dennis Schwartz liked the film and wrote, "Pushover covers familiar film noir territory, but does a good job of showing how easy it is to lose control of one's life when one is so vulnerable, obsessed and emotionally weak. Novak does a fine job in her first starring role as a heartless femme fatale who does have a heart after all."
- Charles Tranberg, Fred MacMurray: A Biography, Bear Manor Media, 2014
- "Screenplay Info for Pushover (1954)". Turner Classic Movies (tcm.com). Retrieved 2007-12-20.
- Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Pushover capsule". chicagoreader.com. Retrieved 2007-12-20.
- Butler, Craig. Film review, Pushover at AllMovie.
- Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, February 4, 2003. Last accessed: April 23, 2008.