We’re fascinated by movies about corrupt policemen.
However, we like these films Only If the officer in question gets What’s Coming, because a corrupt cop, as you know, represents such an egregious abuse of power.
That’s why we enjoyed Pushover (1954), a gritty film noir about a morally-compromised police officer (Fred MacMurray), who sees his chance to seize cash from a bank robbery, and run away with the criminal’s girlfriend.
When $210,000 is stolen from a bank (approx. 2.19M US today), police set up a stake-out operation to nab the criminals responsible. MacMurray, an exemplary member of the force with an excellent record, realizes this cash could make all his Dreams Come True – if he’s clever enough with his playbook.
MacMurray’s experience on the police force will help him manipulate things to his benefit. All he has to do is work out a few plays, and voilà!
He thinks running two simultaneous plays will be this easy:
In order for MacMurray to double-cross (A) the crooks, (B) his fellow officers, and (C) side-step innocent bystanders, he has to be pretty agile. Sadly for him, there are a lot of Moving Pieces, and, in true noir fashion, the situation quickly Gets Out Of Hand.
MacMurray isn’t the only one with with a playbook. His colleagues also have a carefully timed and coordinated plan. But when questions arise about MacMurray’s behaviour, his team members start to close ranks. MacMurray is so focused on his own plans, he doesn’t even notice.
Like many films noir, it almost feels like Fate has its own playbook that it’s not sharing with anybody, and you don’t know what the play is until it’s too late.
All of these elements make for a brisk crime thriller. But we’ve not even told you the best part, which is a 21-year-old Kim Novak, in her first starring role.
Novak’s character operates a playbook all her own.
Novak is absolutely stunning in this film. She plays a gangster’s girlfriend, so she doesn’t tip her hand easily. She also has the old-soul weariness of a gal who’s been disappointed by dozens of fumbled plays.
For example, in one scene, a man at a bar tries – and fails – to get Novak’s attention, so he slides into the chair beside her:
Man: “I’m afraid I gave you the wrong impression.”
Novak: “I doubt it.”
Man: “No, really. You remind me of someone. Haven’t you ever met me before?”
Novak: “Hundreds of times.”
Novak is as calculating as she is beautiful. She Makes Her Own Rules, even when someone else is buying. She’s the type who’ll take your money and allow you to feel grateful for it.
You’d never know this was her first big role.
You could say Pushover is a mashup of Double Indemnity (1944) and Rear Window (1954), and it does employ noir elements we’ve seen before.
Even so, nothing in Pushover feels contrived. All the plot twists seem completely organic, from a bystander who gets in the way at the worst possible time, to a police lieutenant who isn’t satisfied with mediocrity.
Plus, director Richard Quine never lets up on the gas. This is a full-on Collision Course with Disaster, where any good news is immediately ruined with bad.
You can’t not see this film, if only for Kim Novak’s first starring role. You can thank us later.
This post is an early entry in The Kim Novak Blogathon, hosted by The Classic Movie Muse.
Pushover: starring Fred MacMurray, Kim Novak, Philip Carey. Directed by Richard Quine. Written by Roy Huggins. Columbia Pictures, 1954, B&W, 88 mins.