Sunday, September 29, 2013


The tense stakeout noir PUSHOVER deposits Fred MacMurray in the middle of the same minefield of temptations he navigated without success a decade earlier in DOUBLE INDEMNITY. Each film features a duplicitous blonde who embodies both sexual and monetary desires, as well as a no-nonsense authority figure with excellent instincts. MacMurray is pitch-perfect in his practiced performance, looking increasingly distraught as things get overly complicated.

In an early scene that sets up the remaining narrative, LA police detective Paul Sheridan (MacMurray) recalls his parents fought constantly over irresolvable money problems. He vowed never to be caught short of cash, thus equivocating financial freedom with a lifetime of happiness. It’s a telling expositional sequence, especially given the presence of MacMurray, already noted for playing characters whose sleazy inner workings are concealed behind a façade of straight-laced righteousness in DOUBLE INDEMNITY and THE CAINE MUTINY. In this outing, MacMurray’s cop gets romantically involved with a moll named Lona McLane (Kim Novak in her official screen debut). Sheridan hopes to nail down the whereabouts of McLane’s bank-robbing beau Harry Wheeler (Paul Richards). Predictably enough, McLane suggests she and Sheridan make off with Wheeler’s satchel full of stolen loot. At first uninterested, it isn’t long before Sheridan’s base instincts kick in. We instantly know how things will turn out, just as we know alcohol will somehow get the best of Paddy Dolan (Allen Nourse), who is one slip-up away from losing his pension, yet cannot resist the magnetic pull of a nearby pub while on duty. Director Richard Quine never allows predictability to detract from the suspense, though, as the mise-en-scène gradually caves in on Sheridan with fatalistic precision. Most of the key sequences are engulfed in darkness and shadows captured skillfully by director of photography Lester White (WOMEN'S PRISON, 5 AGAINST THE HOUSE).

Paul Sheridan (Fred MacMurray) and Lona McLane (Kim Novak) keep it on the down low

Problematically for Sheridan, he is assigned to a surveillance team dedicated to keeping tabs on McLane. While he remains focused on his secret lover, his stakeout partner Rick McAllister (Phil Carey) takes a voyeuristic interest in McLane’s neighbor Ann Stewart (Dorothy Malone). This arrangement firmly establishes basic noir oppositions: the working-girl brunette vs. the kept blonde, the honest cop vs. the corrupt cop. PUSHOVER concludes by cancelling out the negative components of those equations:  the “bad couple” is deleted, and the “good couple” walks away from the scene, with the “good” man reinstated as altruistic protector of woman. Police Lt. Carl Eckstrom (E.G. Marshall), the film’s highest ranking authority figure, makes it official by overseeing the resolution, reminiscent of the way Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) presides over the closure of DOUBLE INDEMNITY.

Paul Sheridan (Fred MacMurray) in a real fix

PUSHOVER is available as part of Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II 5-disc DVD set.

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