Fred MacMurray as anything but the star of Disney movies like The Absent-Minded Professor and The Shaggy Dog or on the TV show My Three Sons. An all-American Dad if there ever was one so I have trouble going along with his darker roles like in 1954 film noir Pushover.
Working a case, middle-aged police officer Paul Sheridan (MacMurray) meets Lona (Kim Novak), the girlfriend of a gangster, Wheeler (Paul Richards) who's recently robbed a bank, escaping with $210,000 but killing a bank guard in the process. Bored with his life, Paul falls for her hard even when she figures out he's a cop. Upset with her situation of an absentee boyfriend, Lona similarly falls for Paul. Paul's precinct is working a stakeout in hopes of catching Lona's boyfriend, putting Paul in an interesting predicament. He comes up with a plan though, leaving his whole life behind him, taking the money if Wheeler shows up, and starting life over with Lona. Nothing comes easy though.
As a film noir, this has all the requisite pieces from the shadowy setting to the femme fatale in Novak to the anti-hero looking out for himself. Making her film debut, Novak is a bright spot as Lona McLane, the gangster's girlfriend frustrated with her situation. The 21-year old beauty was always gorgeous, but director Richard Quine shoots her like an angel....albeit one with a manipulative streak. Drop dead gorgeous came to mind anytime she was on the screen. Also a positive is the opening bank robbery, a silent sequence interrupted by gunfire. The early portions of the movie are especially good, MacMurray and Novak getting away with some risque scenes (for the time at least).
But as things start to develop with the gangster, the girl and the cash, my problems with MacMurray arose once again. I just don't buy him as a bad guy. Check that. He's not a bad guy, just a weak good guy who makes some epically bad, stupid decisions. The reviews pointed out that Novak manipulates MacMurray's Paul into stealing the stolen money, but I didn't see that. He is attracted to a younger, beautiful woman and sees a whole new life through her. The Paul character is still too much of a weakling though, and I had trouble buying him in the lead role. The other police officers include his partner, McAllister (Philip Carey), who's looking for a wife, Lt. Eckstrom (E.G. Marshall), the officer in charge, and Dolan (Allen Nourse), the veteran cop nearing his retirement and pension.
Once MacMurray's plan hits the fan, the story picks up to a pretty breakneck pace. It is 1954, and the Hollywood movie code still dictated that bad guys got their due. So in other words, once Paul starts making bad decisions, there's no end in sight. One mistake rolls onto another one, especially when Lola's neighbor (Dorothy Malone) sees Paul coming out of her apartment. It's only a matter of time before Paul's flimsy house of cards comes tumbling down, and when he does it is epically bad.
I should mention one thing though that ranks up there with MacMurray as some major issues in this 1954 film noir. A stakeout isn't exactly an exciting visual experience. Instead of spicing it up, Pushover actually shows it in all its excruciating detail. In an 88-minute movie, we get uninterrupted shots of policemen looking through binoculars, officers walking to a car and changing positions with other officers, that sort of thing. Pretty exciting, huh? Yeah, you bet. On the whole, the movie is pretty decent, but the negatives are hard to avoid.
Pushover <---TCM trailer/clips (1954): ** 1/2 /****