Thursday 2 November 2023

Noirvember: Pushover (1954)

A man and a woman meet in the kind of encounter that could lead to the 1950s version of a rom-com. She is having car trouble. He can offer her somewhere to stay while it gets fixed. But she may have another man in her life. And, as viewers find out in the next scene, her latest admirer is actually a cop. 

Directed by Richard Quine, Pushover is an enjoyable film noir that pairs up Fred MacMurray (as Paul Sheridan, the cop) and Kim Novak (as Lona McLane), allowing them to struggle against their attraction as if both were magnets trying to join together as opposing forces keep showing how they should stay apart. McLane is a woman who is due a visit from her fella, a criminal who has hidden the money from a recent bank robbery somewhere, and Sheridan is one of the cops trying to ensure his arrest, but love complicates the whole situation. And greed. Love and greed. A classic film noir combination.

While not as dark and gritty as many other film noirs, Pushover is an excellent depiction of a man making one bad decision and then seeing events spiral way out of his control, causing the kind of damage that he soon realises there’s no coming back from. Apparently based on a couple of different source texts (“The Night Watch”, by Thomas Walsh, and “Rafferty”, by William S. Ballinger), the script by Roy Huggins continually builds momentum as everyone is dragged towards a tense finale. Quine ensures that everyone can see the pieces moving into place, and he does so without anything feeling rushed or illogical.

MacMurray does a great job of being the dependable guy we’ve seen him play in so many other movies (a man without malicious intent who is changed by the unfolding chain of events that he kickstarted), and Novak is already a shining star in her first credited feature role. If anyone is going to get themselves in big trouble then doing so for Novak feels like pretty good motivation. Philip Carey, Allen Nourse, and E. G. Marshall make up other members of the force who are focused on cracking the case, and all of them do well in very stereotypical roles, and Dorothy Malone stands out as a woman who inadvertently puts a spanner in the works of the unstoppable scheme.

This is never going to crack a list of top 10 film noirs, I doubt it would even crack a top 50, but Pushover is well worth your time. The leads have great chemistry, the supporting characters are all memorable in the right ways, and the tension keeps getting ratcheted up nicely as soon as one small error creates a tragic butterfly effect. I REALLY liked this, and hope others check it out.


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