Cast & Crew
E. G. Marshall
A carefully planned bank heist by hoodlum Harry Wheeler and his partner leaves a policeman dead and $200,000 stolen. After the police investigation, headed by Lt. Carl Ekstrom, identifies Wheeler as the culprit, Eckstrom assigns detective Paul Sheridan to befriend Wheeler's girl friend, Lona McLane, who has moved into an apartment in town. Paul stages a meeting with Lona and a powerful attraction develops between the two. Paul takes Lona to his apartment for the night, then spends the next several days with her. Later, Eckstrom, Paul and his partner, Rick McAllister, devise a stakeout across from Lona's apartment, and wait for Wheeler to contact her. On Paul and Rick's first shift, Lona leaves the apartment and Paul follows her, only to be startled when she drives to his apartment. He meets her there and she accuses him of having staged their meeting and asks if he is a cop. Paul admits to being a detective, but insists that he has been seeing her for personal reasons. Lona discloses that she is frightened of her involvement with Wheeler and insists that she did not know about his criminal activities until after the bank robbery. Lona asks what would happen to Wheeler if she turned him in, and when she suggests that she and Paul would be happy with the robbery money, he angrily demands she leave. Paul returns to the stakeout room and discovers Rick watching Lona's neighbor, a young nurse, Ann Stewart, whom Rick comes to admire. Depressed over his argument with Lona, Paul grows restless and his increasing exhaustion is noted by Rick and the other members of the stakeout team. One evening when Rick leaves the stakeout room briefly, Paul telephones Lona and asks to meet her on the roof. There he promises to get the money when they apprehend Wheeler, if she will run away with him. Lona agrees and reveals that Wheeler will be contacting her the next day by phone to find out through an agreed upon signal, whether it is safe for him to meet her. The next day, early in Paul and Rick's shift, Wheeler calls, and after Lona gives the signal and departs, Paul has Rick follow her. Intending to capture Wheeler alone, Paul telephones detective Paddy Dolan, who is keeping watch in a squad car outside, and is disturbed when there is no answer. Outside, Paul sees Paddy leaving a nearby bar. Paddy is guilt-stricken over his lapse, and as he apologizes, the detectives notice Wheeler entering the apartment building. Paul assures Paddy he will cover for him, and the detectives arrest Wheeler on his way out. When Wheeler leads them to his car, Paul shoots him while Paddy is examining the bag of money, then claims that Wheeler was about to attack Paddy. Although anxious, Paddy grows suspicious when Paul suggests they hide Wheeler's body, and refuses to give Wheeler's car keys to Paul. Later, as arranged with Lona, Paul slips into her apartment and waits for her call to assure her all is well. Upon leaving her apartment, however, Paul runs into Ann, then heads back to the stakeout room. Rick returns shortly, followed by Eckstrom, who sends Paul out on a pretext. Eckstrom informs Rick that he telephoned the stakeout room for an hour and received no answer. Rick admits that as he was leaving to trail Lona, he noted Paddy's empty car and saw him going into the bar and suggests that Paul may be covering for the older detective. Meanwhile, Paul finds Paddy, and instructs him to move Wheeler's car so it will not be discovered too soon. Certain that Paul is after the money, Paddy refuses and, pulling his gun, declares his intention to report his failure to Eckstrom. When Paddy's car phone rings, Paul lunges for the gun, which goes off, killing Paddy. Distraught over Paddy's death and the discovery that Wheeler's car has disappeared, Paul then telephones Lona for another meeting on the roof. Suspecting Paddy moved the car nearby, they spot it parked in an alley. Meanwhile, Ann, who knows about the police presence, runs into Rick and informs him that she saw a man coming out of Lona's apartment, who Rick assumes was Wheeler. Later, as Lona takes Rick on another fruitless drive, Paul moves Wheeler's car and dumps the body, which is discovered just as he returns to the stakeout room. Eckstrom and Rick then question Lona, who reveals nothing. When Ann spots Paul heading toward Lona's apartment, she reports it to the police. Realizing Ann has recognized him, Paul picks her up at gunpoint, then with Lona, leaves the building. Eckstrom and Rick receive Ann's report as Paul goes outside and notices two squad cars around Wheeler's car. He sends Ann to the trunk to retrieve the money, but Rick and another detective intercept her and have a shootout with Paul as Lona watches in dismay. Lona is arrested and a wounded Paul apologizes to Rick, who escorts Ann back to her apartment.
E. G. Marshall
Kenneth L. Smith
John De Simone
Philip A. Waxman
Lester H. White
Pushover (1954) offers a good example of the pleasures you can find even in supposedly lesser entries in the film noir cycle of the late Forties and early Fifties. Besides the memorable presence of Kim Novak in her first starring role, the film features taut direction by Richard Quine; notice, for instance, how simply and effectively the initial bank heist is staged. Lester White, who served as the director of photography on several Andy Hardy films, provides the film's moody, low-key photography; much of the film is set at night, and he takes full advantage of it.
Pushover also contains a surprisingly frank psychological subtext regarding the connection between police surveillance and voyeurism. Not only does the main protagonist pick up the gangster's moll after spying on her from an apartment opposite her courtyard, but his partner--the so-called "good guy"--does the same thing with a nurse living in the apartment adjacent to Lona McLane's. Contemporary viewers might be tempted to see this element as a nod to Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), but the film was produced and released at virtually the same time and was adapted partly from a novel with the same surveillance motif, so any parallels are most likely coincidental.
Kim Novak's star persona was already surprisingly well developed with her appearance in Pushover. In retrospect, one can see how Hitchcock and scriptwriter Samuel Taylor cannily used Kim Novak's existing screen personality for the Judy/Madeleine character in Vertigo (1958), to the extent that some of her specific dialogue with Fred MacMurray is echoed in the later Hitchcock film.
Up to that point, Novak had played only a couple of small roles in films, including a bit part in The French Line (1954), which is remembered more for Jane Russell's skimpy costume than anything else. Novak, whose real name is Marilyn Novak, recalled in a 1996 Washington Post interview her big visit to the office of Harry Cohn, head of Columbia at that time: "The first time I was in his office was when they called me in to tell me they had changed my name. I had a feeling that if I'd gone along with the name they'd chosen, I'd never be seen again. I'd be swallowed up by that name, because it was a false name: Kit Marlowe. [...] I said, 'I'm not going to change my family name.' Harry Cohn said, 'Well, nobody's going to go see a girl with a Polack name.' I said, 'Well, I'm Czech, but Polish, Czech, no matter, it's my name.'"
Periodically, Kim Novak would express open frustration with her acting career over the years. In a 1959 interview for Newsweek, she stated: "I have only been in pictures five years. [...] Before that I had no dramatic training--so different from most actors, who first learn their craft and then perform. So up until my present project I've always been tense and unnatural on camera, trying so hard to do just what the director told me to do but never contributing anything of my own personality." She meant this comment to include, we assume, her star debut in Pushover, but from today's perspective her performance holds up better that one might think, thanks to an element of vulnerability in her performance that makes the character more sympathetic than usual for a femme fatale.
Producer: Jules Schermer
Director: Richard Quine
Script: Roy Huggins; based on the novel by Bill S. Ballinger & Thomas Walsh
Photography: Lester White
Art Direction: Walter Holscher, Jean Louis
Film Editor: Jerome Thoms
Music: Arthur Morton (score) and Morris Stoloff (conducting).
Cast: Fred MacMurray (Paul Sheridan), Phil Carey (Rick McAllister), Kim Novak (Lona McLane), Dorothy Malone (Ann Stewart), E. G. Marshall (Lt. Carl Eckstrom), Allen Nourse (Paddy Dolan), Phil Chambers (Briggs), Alan Dexter (Fine), Robert Forrest (Billings), Don C. Harvey (Peters), Paul Richards (Harry Wheeler).
by James Steffen
Fritz Lang's HUMAN DESIRE and Other Lesser Known Gems in Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics Vol. 2 on DVD
The collection is a showcase for top noir talent. Forties stars like Glenn Ford, Richard Conte and Fred MacMurray are here, along with new faces Aldo Ray, Vince Edwards and Brian Keith. The tough/tender women in jeopardy include Anne Bancroft and Gloria Grahame; we also witness the film debut of star Kim Novak.
Fritz Lang studies the relationship of character to fate in 1954's Human Desire, a remake of Jean Renoir's French classic La bête humain, from a novel by Émile Zola. The original film is a prime exponent of Poetic Realism, a French school of films about working-class people betrayed by their own passions. Transposed to the wholesome milieu of Middle America, the tale still convinces thanks to near-perfect casting. Fresh from fighting in Korea, railroad engineer Jeff Warren (Glenn Ford) falls in love with Vicki (Gloria Grahame), the abused wife of the older, unstable stationmaster Carl Buckley (Broderick Crawford). Carl pressures Vicki to ask an executive -- who molested her as a younger woman -- for his job back, and then murders the man in a fit of rage. Jeff withholds his suspicions about the killing, while Carl threatens Vicki with a compromising letter. Committed to Vicki, Jeff follows Carl to the freight yard, to commit a murder of his own.
Fritz Lang would not have been allowed to film the sordid details of Renoir's story at any American studio. The Production Code demanded the violence be toned down and all transgressors be punished, and the studio insisted that Glenn Ford's play a virtuous working man free of mental illness. No American railroad would cooperate with a movie about murders occurring on their trains. With some of the filming moved to Canada, Lang had to do without Rita Hayworth, his first choice to play Vicki, because a child custody case prevented her from leaving the country. Instead of three flawed characters set on a collision course, Human Desire gives us a psychotic villain, his compromised wife, and a relatively pure hero.
Fritz Lang deftly suggests a few of the original's seamier extremes while stressing his own brand of environmental determinism. Precise montages of trains at work mirror similar fishing industry sequences in his earlier Clash by Night, and POV shots of crisscrossing rails imply that our fate depends on our choices. Lang's masterful direction places his characters in darkened sleeping cabins and forces the lovers to meet in rail yard shacks. But the stylized 40s ambience of eternal night and shadow is gone.
Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame are reunited from the previous year's The Big Heat, where they didn't even share a kiss. Gloria Grahame's Vicki is a needy, battered woman who does seem to love Jeff. But she's not the "right woman" for him. In a nod to healthy values, Alfred Hayes' screenplay holds the virginal Ellen (Kathleen Case) in reserve, waiting patiently for Jeff to come to his senses. Once again, the Production Code's insistence on wholesome values constrains film noir's erotic drive.
As with all the films in this Classics II collection, Human Desire is a picture perfect B&W transfer, enhanced for widescreen. Usually shown full-frame on cable broadcasts, the film gains significantly when cropped to its proper widescreen aspect ratio -- the drama is much more focused.
1954's Pushover reminds us strongly of parts of Double Indemnity combined with Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. Once again playing a man seduced into murder for money and a woman, Fred MacMurray reprises his part from the Billy Wilder masterpiece, with the difference that he's now ten years worse for wear and less cocky about himself. Richard Quine's direction disguises the fact that most of the movie plays out in the same two or three sets.Pushover is the debut picture of Kim Novak, who emerges fully developed as a passive beauty guaranteed to inspire extreme male misbehavior.
On the track of bank robber Wheeler and $200,000 in stolen loot, detective Paul Sheridan (Fred MacMurray) picks up Wheeler's girlfriend, Lona McLane (Kim Novak) in the line of duty. He and his partner Rick McAllister (Phil Carey) keep a 24-hour watch on the McLane apartment. Lona realizes that Paul's a cop and suggests that they do away with Wheeler and run away together with the money. Paul figures a way to accomplish this without his superiors finding out. Meanwhile, Rick is attracted to the woman in the next window over from Lona's apartment, nurse Ann Stewart (Dorothy Malone), but resists getting involved with her while on the job. When the stakeout seems to go wrong, Lt. Eckstrom (E. G. Marshall) takes a more active role in the case, complicating Paul's shaky inside-man scheme.
Pushover's makers flesh out their derivative storyline with plenty of clever touches. The male surveillance of the females in their apartments is voyeurism plain and simple, with Lona aware of her observers in a way that reminds us of peepshows in movies like Hardcore and Paris, Texas. Lona's scripted behavior is somewhat inconsistent. She instigates the murder idea in much the same manner as does Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, but from then on seems mostly a passive puppet. She follows Paul's explicit instructions to do things like draw Paul's partners away from the crime scene, etc. This "obedience factor" mirrors Kim Novak's sexual compliance in her later classic Vertigo.
Noir critics have commented about partner Rick's use of binoculars to "window shop" for the right girl. Another detective clearly enjoys watching the women disrobe, but Rick keeps things on a professional level. He doesn't tell Ann Stewart what he's doing, even after she responds positively to his he-man treatment of a masher (Paul Picerni).Pushover presents a vision of relationships equally as perverse as those of Human Desire, yet no situations arise that would drop a flag before the Production Code's censors. MacMurray's Paul Sheridan chases the twin dream of money and romance, and is almost clever enough to succeed. The ending reaches for romantic resonance when Paul states that, "Maybe we didn't really need the money." But as venality is what motivates Wheeler, Lona and Paul, we must conclude that the characters are once again fooling themselves.
Trim it of its final two minutes, and The Brothers Rico would be a prophetic masterpiece of modern paranoia to match Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. With barely more resources than the average TV show, director Paul Wendkos turns French scribe Georges Simenon's thriller into a vision of the underworld as an inhuman, pervasive social monster. Critics studying fifties' anxieties will find a full statement here: our complacent surface world is completely unaware of an underlying Mabuse-like "empire of crime" that respects no human values. Forties noir icon Richard Conte is perfect as a cog from the old Mafia who believes that the mob will allow him a free and legitimate lifestyle. Not until Francis Coppola's glamorized Godfather films did American movies present the "corporate" transformation of organized crime in such powerful terms.
Ex- mob accountant Eddie Rico (Conte) runs a successful laundry business and with his younger wife Alice (Dianne Foster) hopes to adopt a child. But a call from crime chieftain Sid Kubik (Larry Gates) insists that Eddie locate his younger brothers Johnny and Gino (James Darren & Paul Picerni). The two men have disappeared after performing a mob slaying, and Kubik fears that they might be cooperating with federal investigators. Realizing that his brother's lives are in danger, Eddie rushes to find them. Gino is convinced that he's already a marked man, but Eddie counsels him to do as Kubik says. Eddie must go to New York to get a lead on his youngest brother Johnny. He stops in briefly with his mother (Argentina Brunetti), who doubts that Kubik has her boys' best interests at heart. As Eddie proceeds to the small town in Arizona where Johnny and his new wife Norah (Kathryn Grant) are hiding out, he realizes that he's bumping into too many "friendly" old-time mob associates. Should he be telling Johnny to return to the fold, or to flee for his life?
The Rico brothers are not innocent men, but they became part of the old mob through loyal family ties. Their mother once "stopped a bullet" meant for Sid Kubik, and the older man repeatedly asserts that he considers the Rico boys to be his own. But the "new" mob does not value human relationships. Absolute loyalty is required of members, but every underling is an expendable pawn. Personal freedom is impossible because the mob keeps close tabs on its personnel. Eddie's progress is monitored at every step. He's given a lift by New Yorker Vic (Richard Bakalyan), a wiseguy who pretends he's just being friendly. The Phoenix airport is watched by Charlie Gonzales (Rudy Bond), who glad-hands Eddie with an invitation to a roadhouse casino. When Eddie finally discovers that he's been played as a sucker, it's far too late. "Nothing personal", says Mike Lamotta, a thug who holds Eddie prisoner in a hotel room.
The Brothers Rico seems more relevant now than it did in 1957, provided we ignore its absurd, cheerful epilogue. The mob operates more or less like a modern corporation, independent from meaningful government oversight. Making money is its only goal. A strict internal hierarchy is imposed at all times. Members can't talk about "company business" and will invite suspicion if they don't demonstrate full compliance with company policies. The only difference is that mob employees can't quit. The mob is clearly "too big to fail".
The Brothers Rico is very cleanly designed by art director Robert Boyle. This is minimalism at its best. Johnny's farm hideout is seen only from one establishing wide shot. When the mob's cars arrive quietly on the roadway outside, the angle contains all we need to know. Until its conclusion, this very chilling film shows no overt violence: the implied threats are enough to hold it together.
Jacques Tourneur (Berlin Express, Out of the Past) returns to noir turf with 1957's Nightfall, a faithful-in-spirit adaptation of the suspenseful novel by David Goodis. Tourneur once again infuses a story of murderous double-crosses with intelligence and poetic effects.
Crooks John and Red (Brian Keith & Rudy Bond) trace commercial artist James Vanning (Aldo Ray) to his Hollywood apartment. Vanning at first thinks that model Marie Gardner (Anne Bancroft) has set him up but then relies on her to help him survive his ordeal. The previous Fall in Wyoming, John and Red confronted the vacationing Vanning and murdered his doctor friend. A mix-up with bags left Vanning in possession of the loot, which he buried in the snow. Vanning and Marie must now flee north to recover the money, pursued by the thieves and by Ben Fraser (James Gregory), an insurance investigator convinced that they're all criminals.
Nightfall begins with a romantic title tune sung over Hollywood traffic at sundown, but soon sees its hero James Vanning beaten in a remote oil field. Marie Gregory barely escapes the onerous Red and John at an open-air fashion show on Wilshire Boulevard. David Goodis' book was a feverish first-person account of growing paranoia, but Tourneur and writer Stirling Silliphant back away from Vanning's personal viewpoint without sacrificing tension. As in Out of the Past the hero is at a loss in the dark alleys of the urban setting, but the snowbound Wyoming landscape changes the rules, giving Vanning a fighting chance. Like most films by Jacques Tourneur, Nightfall has its own rhythms and special character graces. Gravel voiced Aldo Ray is excellent as the haunted Vanning, a tough guy who is also believably gentle. Brian Keith must work hard to impress as a threat to the more imposing-looking Aldo Ray. Anne Bancroft is encouraged to give Marie an extra dimension as well; for once the idea of a woman dropping everything to follow a strange man into danger seems wholly credible. Nightfall is the rare 50s American noir thriller that captures the ambience of its hardboiled pulp source.
The surprise hit of last year's Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics I was Murder by Contract, an effective hit-man tale starring Vince Edwards. Director Irving Lerner's immediate 1959 follow-up City of Fear uses the same producer, art director and cameraman (Lucien Ballard of The Wild Bunch). With a budget that seems even smaller than before, Lerner found other tech talent at the beginning of impressive careers: editor Robert Lawrence (Spartacus, El Cid) and composer Jerry Goldsmith.
City of Fear's pared-down story is more suited to a TV show -- The Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode The Dividing Wall (1963) used the exact same idea. The script is a collaboration by actor-writer Steven Ritch and Robert Dillon (X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes). Escapee Vince Ryker (Edwards) thinks he's stolen a sealed container of heroin for use in medical experiments on fellow prisoners. The unshielded canister, the size of a coffee thermos, actually holds deadly radioactive isotope Cobalt-60. Vince has no idea that his treasure is slowly killing him. Police Chief Jensen, Lt. Richards and Dr. Wallace (Lyle Talbot, John Archer & screenwriter Steven Ritch) are afraid to start a panic by going public, and instead wait for Ryker to trip himself up. Unable to cash in his find, Ryker comes down with flu-like symptoms that won't go away.
City of Fear looks assembled from bits and pieces. While Ryker tangles with unreliable dope contacts, the three authority figures policemen fret and worry. John Archer seemingly repeats his role from ten years back in White Heat. Despite the movie's overall competence we keep wondering why Ryker isn't concerned that his canister can't be opened. Doesn't any drug runner first confirm what he's carrying? City of Fear's camera roams atypical Los Angeles locations like the Melrose district and Sunset Blvd, but its finale appears to have been shot on a studio lot to save money, as had a major scene in Murder by Contract. Without an action conclusion, it's left to Vince Edwards' acting to lend some punch to the downbeat ending. City of Fear shows talented filmmakers making do with a minimum of filmic resources. Jerry Goldsmith's music score, his second theatrical effort, gives the picture a major boost.
Sony's DVD collection Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II contains nigh-perfect enhanced widescreen transfers of these rewarding late-period noir thrillers. Each film comes on its own disc and includes an original theatrical trailer. The other extras are limited to short interviews with Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan and Emily Mortimer. Scorsese offers a few useful comments on The Brothers Rico but the other two spokespeople mostly communicate their personal reactions to the movies. We know that the changing market for DVDs has caused most companies to cut back drastically on their extras, but we still miss the expert commentaries on the first set of Columbia Noirs. Our interest increases with each new release of arcane and eccentric Noir titles.
For more information about Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II, visit Sony. To order Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Fritz Lang's HUMAN DESIRE and Other Lesser Known Gems in Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics Vol. 2 on DVD
Your place or mine?- Paul Sheridan
Surprise me.- Lona McLane
You just don't like women, Rick.- Paul Sheridan
What keeps you single?- Rick McAllister
Maybe I like 'em too much.- Paul Sheridan
If you'd known where his dough came from, would you still have taken it?- Paul Sheridan
Money isn't dirty. Just people.- Lona McLane
Began shooting in mid-January 1954.
Working titles for this film were The Killer Wore a Badge, 322 French Street and The Night Watch. According to a May 1952 Variety news item, Philip A. Waxman originally purchased the rights to the Thomas Walsh novel, The Night Watch, which was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post (10 November-15 December 1951) under the title "The Killer Wore a Badge." Although not credited onscreen, Walsh's novel, as well as Rafferty by William S. Ballinger are credited as sources in reviews. A December 1953 Hollywood Reporter item notes that Waxman's credit as associate producer was a compromise with Columbia Studios upon their purchase of Walsh's story. Waxman intended the script to be written by Orin Jannings and Stanley Ellin. Their contribution, if any, to the final film has not been determined.
Although the onscreen credits read "And introducing Kim Novak," the film did not mark her debut. She had a small role (billed under her real name, Marilyn Novak) in two earlier RKO productions. The Hollywood Reporter review of Pushover predicted Novak would have a future in film, describing her as "possessed of a face and figure to set men dreaming and a Jean Harlow-like personality that May set wives seething." Daily Variety observed that Novak, "[A] beaut, has an attractive personality."
Released in United States Summer August 1954
This was Kim Novak's first starring role and her second screen appearance after a bit part in "The French Line."
Released in United States Summer August 1954