Pushover (1954)

Pushover (1954) is a crooked cop film noir classic with a heart of stone, that ultimately demonstrates that love can persist, even among the most amoral of actors.

During a bank robbery a bank guard, in attempting to wrest a pistol from one of the two robbers, is shot and killed by the robber, Harry Wheeler (Paul Richards).

Lona McLane, played by Kim Novak in her first credited role, is an unaccompanied young woman in a mink coat, who leaves a movie theatre and walks to her car. 

When she tries to start the automobile, it will not turn over, but almost immediately Paul Sheridan (played by 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, and repair to his apartment. When they get up there, clichés start to swirl and old man Sheridan moves fast on the flirt.

Follow on for deceit, murder, and illicit lust.

Saucy dream boat - - Kim Novak in Pushover (1954)

Boaty sauce dream - - Fred MacMurray, lusty, greedy crooked cop in Pushover (1954)

During a bank robbery a bank guard, in attempting to wrest a pistol from one of the two robbers, is shot and killed by the robber, Harry Wheeler (Paul Richards). Pushover kicks off with this heist, which is excellent and makes a great opening, full of action and violence.

In the morning, following the amusing pick up that takes place in Kim Novak's car, 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, who has now been identified as the principal bank robber. 

Sheridan is presented at this stage 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 $250,000 and to capture Wheeler alive so the police will be able to find out from him who his accomplice is. 

All is reasonable, but lust and greed are rolling down the track towards this poor cop.  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.

Fantastic motor vehicle slick pick up in Pushover (1954)
with Kim Novak and Fred MacMurray

It is a pick-up of the most fantastic kind, and super-entertaining as an opener. Was there ever a time and place where pick-ups such as this actually occurred? She is beautiful, alone and yet somehow desperate. He is significantly older, confident it is true, but blunt and cheesy ― yet within seconds, they are all over each other ― and within the hour they are back at his apartment, necking the liquor and snagging on the settee.

What you may take from this is that film noir is a style which is as incorporated into the moods of Hollywood as fantasy. The twin fantasies of sex and crime are both realised to various degrees throughout the style, although the fantasy of sex is realised to a pinnacle of perfection in the opening minutes of Pushover.

The double entendres are not slick:

Paul Sheridan: [after trying to start her car] I don't know. I don't think you're getting any spark.

Lona McLane: I'm not?

Paul Sheridan: Not enough to start the car.

Lona McLane: Any suggestions?

Film Noir - - boobs in the night  - -  in Pushover (1954)

Which is not to say there are not the usual selection of fine lines to ponder in Pushover. Probably one of the most memorable is "well, it's been weird knowing you," which comes from the mouth of Lona at one point.

The crazy pick-up is self-summarised by the characters as the First Act closes:

Lona McLane: Sorry?

Paul Sheridan: Sorry? For what?

Lona McLane: Picking me up.

Paul Sheridan: Is that what you call it, a pick-up?

Lona McLane: Don't you?


What we have to wonder however is whether or not anyone is suggesting that this is a manner in which men and women should or even do act?

Cops as legal voyeurs in film noir: Pushover (1954)

The realities of film noir are best realised in the operations current in the minds of its producers. There is something in Pushover for example, that is driving Fred MacMurray and therefore the audiences, to recollect the glories of Double Indemnity.

At first this does not seem quite a plausible connection, but as the plot thickens and the quicksand quickens, the likeness appears. Fred MacMurray is a man driven by greed, driven by what may look like lust, but by what may finally be declared as love ― a fine complement to any film noir coupling ― and his acting begins to really come into its own, as he appears vulnerable and nearer yet to the noose.

The plots of Pushover and Double Indemnity are otherwise not the same, although once more ― what starts as an innocent enough meeting, ends up being trouble of the purest kind. The relationship between Phyllis and Walter in Double Indemnity is one of two snakes caught in the same trap ― while in Pushover, what we witness is a genuine enough love affair.

The question remains however: did any one man watch movies like Pushover and decide that, based upon the pick-up and courtship methodology, the way to kiss a woman was to grab her buy the jaw and sock it to her jaw to jaw?

Up the fatal flight to lust in film noir - Pushover 1954

Likewise, did any women watch a movie like Pushover and thereafter feel that this was what to expect? If any woman who, alone in the evening, felt that this crass style of approach and quick technique was what society expected of her, then we really would be living in noir-land ― a place where men and women threw themselves upon each other with such careless abandon would lead to a realm of ill-will, jealousy, mental illness, and very likely abuse and murder as social norms.

What is missing patently from this picture is the fact of the danger of sex. The danger of sex, acutely felt by the Victorians, is expressed in reverse in film noir. The danger of sex, which is a danger leading to hurt, pain, pregnancy and unhappiness is flung to the side here. What we have in this lovingly conservative era is a kiss ― from it we are to elaborate all else.

Surveillance in Pushover (1954)

Stranger still, Kim Novak, scene-stealing and super-sexy here in her debut, plays a character who is already supposed to have a boyfriend. 

What she is supposed to be in our eyes then is a woman of no virtue ― a woman who, despite being in the highest percentile of attractiveness, positively ovulating off the screen, is going to be swept away and become that seductive and willing pussy cat at the first sign of a cheap chat-up from a guy like Fred MacMurray.

No disrespect Fred, but you were aged around 46 when Pushover was released, and Kim Novak ― you were aged 21. There isn't the simple matter of this being a male fantasy, because it is not just that. It enters the realm of morality, which makes it a fantasy for everyone. And in many respects, this is a sexual fantasy that despite being attached to a large bag of money, turns most surprisingly into a fable of love. It's that love that redeems Pushover, and surprises everyone in the end.

At the foot of this article, we shall discuss that ending, so stop around here if you're not hot for spoilers. It seems to be a fairly non-standard ending, to brush aside the loot and the lust in favour of the biggest L of all ― Love. 

Throughout Pushover there is a continual return to the cops' stakeout, likely for a few reasons. First the stakeout is the most economical way to see the cops at work, and get to grips with their own lives and angles:

Rick McAllister: New car, mink coat, no clocks in the joint... probably the story of her life.

Paul Sheridan: You just don't like women, Rick.

Rick McAllister: What keeps you single?

Paul Sheridan: Maybe I like 'em too much.

Rick McAllister: I've seen all kinds since we joined the force... B-girls, hustlers, blackmailers, shoplifters, drunks. You know, I think I'd still be married if I could find a half-honest woman. Must be a few of 'em around.

Paul Sheridan: Watch yourself! Those few might just be smarter!

Street scene in Pushover (1954)

On top of that, the stakeout allows the audience an ongoing and everlasting moment of voyeurism, not only because of the beautiful woman they are watching, but because of her neighbour, also a beautiful single woman. 

Kim Novak at the wheel in Pushover (1954)

Because of this, Pushover is one of the most inadvertently voyeuristic film noirs, as we repeatedly watch these two woman, being watched by several cops.  What is more, real love comes of it. Not just the satisfaction of the lead man's lust, but an actual love story. We would wonder if the cop who falls for the moral girl/ next door ever owns up to her in a future universe, that he met her first while spying on her undressing

If it's not bad enough that Fred MacMurray's cop falls in love with the woman he is sent to entrap and then spies on, his colleague takes to spying on the neighbour, whom he also falls in love with. Although death takes its toll as it must do in all good film noir, both loves complete the film intact, even though they are founded on the most immoral of premises.

It's touches like this which raise Pushover from the fast flowing gutter of 1950s cop and crime movies and thrillers, to make it a genuine noir. 

Grim as hell - the long walk to the dénouement

Without the paranoia, this would not be film noir; and without the hellish descent into the mutual rat traps of crooked love and greed for the bag of dough, this would also not be noir, but closer to a police procedural ― which it ain't.

Pushover (1954) over at Wikipedia

Pushover is directed by Richard Quine, also known for How to Murder Your Wife (1965); Hotel (1967) and The Prisoner of Zenda (1979) - - among many others.

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