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teaser Pushover (1954)

Synopsis: When a major bank heist headed by Harry Wheeler goes awry and a policeman is shot, Paul Sheridan (Fred MacMurray) is one of the cops placed on the team to watch the apartment of Wheeler's girlfriend, Lona McLane (Kim Novak). Sheridan meets Lona in person, and the two immediately fall for each other. They hatch a plan to knock off Wheeler and keep his loot for themselves, but Sheridan faces a number of obstacles--including a drunken and unreliable partner on the street.

Pushover (1954) offers a good example of the pleasures you can find even in supposedly lesser entries in the film noir cycle of the late Forties and early Fifties. Besides the memorable presence of Kim Novak in her first starring role, the film features taut direction by Richard Quine; notice, for instance, how simply and effectively the initial bank heist is staged. Lester White, who served as the director of photography on several Andy Hardy films, provides the film's moody, low-key photography; much of the film is set at night, and he takes full advantage of it.

Pushover also contains a surprisingly frank psychological subtext regarding the connection between police surveillance and voyeurism. Not only does the main protagonist pick up the gangster's moll after spying on her from an apartment opposite her courtyard, but his partner--the so-called "good guy"--does the same thing with a nurse living in the apartment adjacent to Lona McLane's. Contemporary viewers might be tempted to see this element as a nod to Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), but the film was produced and released at virtually the same time and was adapted partly from a novel with the same surveillance motif, so any parallels are most likely coincidental.

Kim Novak's star persona was already surprisingly well developed with her appearance in Pushover. In retrospect, one can see how Hitchcock and scriptwriter Samuel Taylor cannily used Kim Novak's existing screen personality for the Judy/Madeleine character in Vertigo (1958), to the extent that some of her specific dialogue with Fred MacMurray is echoed in the later Hitchcock film.

Up to that point, Novak had played only a couple of small roles in films, including a bit part in The French Line (1954), which is remembered more for Jane Russell's skimpy costume than anything else. Novak, whose real name is Marilyn Novak, recalled in a 1996 Washington Post interview her big visit to the office of Harry Cohn, head of Columbia at that time: "The first time I was in his office was when they called me in to tell me they had changed my name. I had a feeling that if I'd gone along with the name they'd chosen, I'd never be seen again. I'd be swallowed up by that name, because it was a false name: Kit Marlowe. [...] I said, 'I'm not going to change my family name.' Harry Cohn said, 'Well, nobody's going to go see a girl with a Polack name.' I said, 'Well, I'm Czech, but Polish, Czech, no matter, it's my name.'"

Periodically, Kim Novak would express open frustration with her acting career over the years. In a 1959 interview for Newsweek, she stated: "I have only been in pictures five years. [...] Before that I had no dramatic training--so different from most actors, who first learn their craft and then perform. So up until my present project I've always been tense and unnatural on camera, trying so hard to do just what the director told me to do but never contributing anything of my own personality." She meant this comment to include, we assume, her star debut in Pushover, but from today's perspective her performance holds up better that one might think, thanks to an element of vulnerability in her performance that makes the character more sympathetic than usual for a femme fatale.

Producer: Jules Schermer
Director: Richard Quine
Script: Roy Huggins; based on the novel by Bill S. Ballinger & Thomas Walsh
Photography: Lester White
Art Direction: Walter Holscher, Jean Louis
Film Editor: Jerome Thoms
Music: Arthur Morton (score) and Morris Stoloff (conducting).
Cast: Fred MacMurray (Paul Sheridan), Phil Carey (Rick McAllister), Kim Novak (Lona McLane), Dorothy Malone (Ann Stewart), E. G. Marshall (Lt. Carl Eckstrom), Allen Nourse (Paddy Dolan), Phil Chambers (Briggs), Alan Dexter (Fine), Robert Forrest (Billings), Don C. Harvey (Peters), Paul Richards (Harry Wheeler).

by James Steffen

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