Foreign (Italian, I’m thinking) poster art for Columbia’s 1953 noir Pushover with Kim Novak and Fred MacMurray, called “Criminal On Duty” here. This poster’s art always intrigued me, first because it’s such a disturbing image – a knock on the door, you open it and WHAM! Badness is about to happen.
But aside from the visceral artwork, it’s an interesting decision not to depict either of the film’s two main stars (well, other than Fred MacMurray’s hand) and show Dorothy Malone instead of Kim Novak. Mind you, I love them both, and Malone did what she could in a small but important role. All the same, the image here is dynamic and unsettling at the same time, don’t you think?
I haven’t read Thomas Walsh’s 1953 novel The Night Watch or William Ballinger’s Rafferty from the same year, but both books were adapted by screenwriter Roy Huggins for Richard Quine’s 1954 Columbia noir, Pushover. At the time, reviewers compared it (favorably or not) to 1944’s Double Indemnity, and understandably so, both films starring Fred MacMurray as a too-smart-for-his-own-good fellow who may not be dirty but is certainly a bit dusty, enough to fall in love or lust with a seductive blonde even though he knows she’ll be pure trouble. In the film adaptation of James M. Cain’s steamy novel, it was Barbara Stanwyck, of course, in one of most memorable roles. Here it’s a young Kim Novak.
The movie opens with an action-packed robbery that goes bad. Cut to stag-night MacMurray spotting unattached Kim Novak at a late-night movie. Kim’s car trouble leads them to a cocktail lounge, then to more drinks at home (and presumably whatever else goes on there that couldn’t be shown in 1950s films). The coincidental meeting looks to turn into a romance, till we learn that MacMurray’s actually a cop who’s been tailing Novak all along, she being the gal pal of the armed robber who’s now wanted for murder.
She’s no dope, figures out that MacMurray’s a detective, but love is love and lust is lust, and soon enough the two conspire to get their mitts on the heist man’s loot and make their getaway. Just why they think their hastily hatched scheme can succeed with two-man police teams doing round the clock surveillance on Novak’s apartment eludes me. Meanwhile, MacMurray’s confirmed bachelor partner falls hard for Kim Novak’s neighbor, played by Dorothy Malone, a cute nurse he’s keeping an eye on (literally) through binoculars from his perch across the street. Keep that in mind the next time you wonder if you ought to close the blinds when you’re down to your skimpies or getting up to something naughty.
No surprise, just about everything that could go wrong does, with MacMurray getting deeper in trouble by the hour and a couple of bodies left in his wake. Like all good noirs, doomed love is precisely that: Doomed.
I’d only seen this film once before, but it’s suddenly in rotation on the MOVIES! cable channel’s Sunday and Thursday night noir showcases. Double Indemnity it’s not, but it’s damn good. Dark, steamy, punctuated with sudden bursts of violence…all you could want from a mid-1950’s crime film.
It had been ten years since Fred MacMurray helped make the screen sizzle alongside Barbara Stanwyck as Walter Neff and Phyllis Deitrichson. With a 25-year age difference, it’s understandable if you consider him mismatched with sleek 21 year old Kim Novak. But then, Hollywood never fretted much about pairing middle-aged (and older) fellows with ingenues and starlets (I mean, Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn? Seriously?). That we believe that Kim Novak’s gun moll doesn’t only see MacMurray’s crooked cop as her ticket out of the life, but that he actually gets her motor humming, is just a testament to the young actress’ emerging talent. Bottom line: The duo make it work. MacMurray was an old pro, and one of Hollywood’s highest earning actors at the time, but this was Kim Novak’s first starring role. In fact, it was only her second film, the previous part just an uncredited walk-on.
On TV, online (it’s there) or on disk – if you haven’t seen Pushover, check it out. It won’t make it to the top of your film noir list, but you won’t be disappointed.
The writing lair’s to-be-read endtable is fully restocked now, two stops on the rescheduled Independent Bookstore Day over the weekend loading me back up on pre-ordered titles that had arrived and some routine browsing discoveries. But as I pile the books up on the endtable (in two wobbly stacks, no less) I suddenly realize that there isn’t a single one there that’ll ever get a mention on this site. It’s not for lack of trying, at least while cruising the store aisles and table displays. It just worked out that way. An impressive display commemorating the 75thanniversary of the end of WWII yielded a couple of pricey history books that will hopefully provide some lessons from the immediate aftermath of that conflict. And let’s face it, there are a few things going on these days that demand attention, from the pandemic to politics and more. Now I don’t know if reading all my new purchases will keep me away from the nightly cable news shows, and even if they do, some of these books are just as likely to make head explode anyway.
Ahh, to get back to those cozy, comforting mystery/crime fiction books brimming with good ol’ fashioned violence, murder and mayhem…
Photos: Kim Novak in 1956; Paulette Caillaux by Roger Berson, 1952
This Italian poster for Otto Preminger’s 1955 The Man With The Golden Arm (L’Uomo Dal Braccio D’Oro on this art) with Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker and Kim Novak bears little resemblance to the Saul Bass posters used for domestic release. But then, the film strays pretty far from Nelson Algren’s 1949 novel, doesn’t it? It’s said that Preminger threatened to have the film pulled from any U.S. theaters that altered or rejected Bass’ poster (Bass also responsible for the film’s opening title sequence), and he’d probably have made good on his threats, already being willing to put the film into release without the MPAA or PCA’s seal of approval…pretty rebellious at that time. While the movie was controversial enough on its own, let’s assume the Italian distributor wanted to tease something other than a peek into the grim and gritty life of a Chicago junkie. Novak’s incredible as strip club hostess Molly Novotny, but the illustrator took a bit of liberty with his depiction of her here.