A film such as Pushover is easy to admire for the simple fact that it does not waste a moment in telling its story. As the credits roll a bank job is already in full progress laying the basic groundwork for what will unravel in the subsequent minutes.
The introduction of our stars follows soon thereafter in a meet-cute happening outside of a local theater, the pretense being engine trouble. It’s enough of an excuse for them to make a connection — two people who started the evening on their own but felt enough of a spark to wind up together.
Of course, when we pull back it’s easy to realize a pretense is all that it was. Paul Sheridan (Fred MacMurray) is a cop tasked by his police chief (E.G. Marshall) to help recover the $200,000 that was nabbed in the bank job. The alluring young Lona McLane (Kim Novak) ties into it all because she was the one-time moll of wanted thug Harry Wheeler.
Thus, the police soon have her apartment under surveillance and her phone tapped for any hint of contact with the gangster. But what they weren’t counting on is for Sheridan to fall for her and put his own stake in getting back the missing money. Meanwhile, his partner Rick trusts him completely and the old vet Paddy is just trying to limp by to retain his pension.
What develops is this strange dichotomy between what is the ethical long arm of the law and what is pure voyeurism encroaching on a person’s right to privacy. Though it doesn’t explore the topic as Rear Window (1954) did that same year, there are still some interesting issues to be culled through.
Further still, despite being a policeman, Sheridan’s personal philosophy seems to be that money makes the world go around. Although he’s quite a bit older, there’s still much to enjoy about Fred MacMurray. Even if his occupation has changed, there is a sense that he’s playing another thinly veiled version of Walter Neff, that pragmatic everyman not fully prepared for playing with fire. Since that role was one of the ones that lit up his career, if this is a mere copy, it’s still a fairly enjoyable one placing him opposite Novak’s femme fatale.
There are passionate kisses that strike like lighting, some gorgeous shadows that easily help to put this into the dark recesses of the noir canon, also reflected by the number of cigarettes smoked and the loose morals that run through the narrative.
Even in her scintillating debut, Kim Novak’s voice is as husky and sultry as ever. Whether wearing her mink coats or driving her sleek wheels. Smoking her cigarettes and coolly spilling her drinks on anyone who gets fresh with her.
But she is not one of the independent strong-willed dames out of the war years. She is not Phyllis Dietrichson. She comes from a different generation and so, far from being a manipulator, it feels far more like she is willingly complicit in Sheridan’s plan as he takes the reins. In fact, it’s difficult to call her a femme fatale at all in the typical sense. It’s really the men around her who are crooked and more than anything she garners sympathy.
Phil Carey plays the stalwart cop who stands by his colleagues but he’s also no schmuck when it comes to laying down the law. The ever-active nurse next door (Dorothy Malone) who shares an adjoining wall with Lona becomes the object of his desire and it conveniently sets up parallel love stories. We now have two cops and two gals. Two romances and a line of entanglements as Sheridan tries to sidestep his colleagues and get the payoff for his own and for his beautiful new accomplice. Pushover develops into a delightfully messy piece of drama full of police corruption and avarice. But it’s a small-time story too. That’s part of its charm.