"Money isn't dirty. Just people."
I was lucky the other day and got to have the day off from work due to miserable weather. Naturally I curled up on the couch and watched as many films as I could. I ended up viewing four films, all new to me. They were PUSHOVER, PERFECT STRANGERS, TWENTIETH CENTURY, and TIGHT SPOT. This was the first time I had ever spent a whole day just watching films I had never seen before, so I decided to sit down and write my thoughts on these films. Well, except for PERFECT STRANGERS. By the time I finished writing up everything, I remembered I had seen STRANGERS—which is telling that I had forgotten the thing entirely while remembering the other films clearly. I mainly watched STRANGERS because it starred Ginger Rogers and Dennis Morgan ten years after KITTY FOYLE, and you all know I love my Dennis like crazy. But this film was worth the two stars my TV guide gave it. You know a film’s bad when it can’t be lifted by Thelma Ritter. So here’s my opinions on the other pictures I saw, and please let me know what you think!
PUSHOVER (1954, dir. Richard Quine)
A larcenous undercover cop falls for the beautiful moll of a bank robber on the run and together they double-cross the hood and the cops. [from IMBd]
This is the film that really established Kim Novak as a star, and it’s easy to see why. She absolutely glows when she’s on the screen, and although her character isn’t as fully fleshed out as I’d like, she does the best with what she’s given. Fred MacMurray is pretty great as well. A lot of people just see this film as a knockoff of DOUBLE INDEMNITY, which may be true, but many films are just knockoffs of Billy Wilder’s classic so I don’t see a problem with it. I was really taken with the first half hour of this film. The opening credits play over a scene of a bank robbery, and then we see Novak leaving a movie theater. She’s having car trouble when MacMurray shows up to help her out. He decides her distributor is flooded and takes her to a bar while they wait for the mechanic to look it over. After the mechanic tells them he doesn’t know when he’ll be done with the car, Novak looks at MacMurray and says “Would you like to take me home?” “Sure…your place or mine?” “Surprise me.”
My favorite scene, though, was the next one. Novak and MacMurray are listening to records and drinking in his apartment. After some more banter, Novak gets really close to MacMurray when he suddenly grabs her face and they kiss—Bogart and Bacall style, you could say. They move to the couch when the mechanic calls. He’ll be done with the car in the morning and asks where he should take it. MacMurray says to Novak, “He wants to know where to deliver it.” Novak’s response: “You tell him.” Fred gets back to the phone and goes, “You can deliver it here.” Then he hangs up and grabs Novak for a kiss that fades out to black. I think we all know what that means.
The next scene we find out that MacMurray’s a cop who is only keeping Novak under observation because she’s the girlfriend of the main gangster from the first scene. After all this, I had high hopes for the film, but it fell short of fulfilling my expectations. The lighting and mood are very film noir and I loved that, and the characters are very interesting, but they remain a little two-dimensional. I was excited to see Dorothy Malone and Philip Carey were in the film, and they do well with what they have, but they should’ve been given more. Maybe if the film was more than 88 minutes long…
Anyway, I would recommend this film. It’s fantastic to see Novak before she became a big star, and she looks stunning. There’s also an underlying voyeuristic theme that appears while MacMurray and some other cops are watching Novak in her apartment from a room across the way. Very reminiscent of REAR WINDOW. Overall, I like the film, but it’ll be a long time before I’ll want to watch it again.
TWENTIETH CENTURY (1934, dir. Howard Hawks)
A flamboyant Broadway impresario who has fallen on hard times tries to get his former lover, now a Hollywood diva, to return and resurrect his failing career. [from IMBd]
I really wanted to like this one—I really did. I had heard great things about it, and I knew that it helped to create the screwball comedy, along with IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT. I love John Barrymore and I’ve been wanting to see more of him and Carole Lombard, so I was excited. I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t too thrilled with what I saw.
Well, it’s more like what I heard. I got so irritated listening to Lombard screech repeatedly, and then she’d start sobbing her heart out, and then she’d be fine for a few minutes, and then it was back to the screeching. I couldn’t stand it. I like Carole, so this was disappointing. I know that her character was supposed to be a little crazy, but this was just ridiculous.
Barrymore also left me conflicted. I thought he was funny, but his character was so over-the-top. His acting matched that, which is fine because that’s what the character called for, but I kept wishing it could be dialed down a notch or two. On the bright side, Barrymore looked pretty freaking handsome throughout the whole thing.
The supporting characters frustrated me, though. Barrymore’s two right-hand men, played by Roscoe Karns and Walter Connelly, put up with so much lunacy from Barrymore, I couldn’t understand why they’d stick around. He constantly fired them and made them do things they hated and he never listened to them. I would’ve been done within a week.
The bottom line is I wish I would’ve liked this film more because I’ve heard so many fantastic things about it. But on the whole, I wasn’t a fan. I hope Howard Hawks can forgive me.
TIGHT SPOT (1955, dir. Phil Karlson)
Sherry Conley, a street tough and cynical woman with an unhappy family background, is taken from prison to a hotel, where the DA tries to convince her to testify against a mobster [named Costain]. Sherry is reluctant because the last witness was murdered before he made it to the stand, and why should she stick her neck out? At the hotel, several attempts are made on her life, and she falls for Vince, the policeman guarding her. [from IMBd]
This is a movie that needs to be checked out. It was so different than what I thought it would be. I knew that Ginger Rogers was a great actress, but this just confirmed it for me. She adopts an interesting New York accent that never slips, and her hair is cut super short (which I will admit I didn’t really like). Her character is extremely brassy, but very vulnerable at the same time. There’s a scene where Robinson brings in her sister to try to convince her to testify, and these two women just go at each other’s jugulars. There’s so much pain between the two and it reveals a lot about Ginger’s character. Once the sister leaves, she breaks down and tells Robinson she doesn’t understand why they have to attack each other. She wishes it was different, and you feel so bad for her.
Then there’s the scenes with Brian Keith, who plays the detective that’s supposed to guard her. They initially bicker like mad, but you can tell that sparks are starting to fly between them. One of my favorite scenes happens when Rogers turns on the radio to a romantic song and she encourages Keith to dance with her. He’s reluctant, but he finally agrees. They start to slow dance when he suddenly stops…only to move the gun holster on his hip so Rogers can be closer. (I may have gasped like some puritanical grandmother at this point.) They keep dancing and you can see their defenses are coming down—Keith evens breaks into a smile. Then Rogers’s eyes widen and she yells at Keith to look at the window. One of Costain’s men is breaking in to kill Rogers. Keith pushes her down and a shootout ensues. A little while later, Keith goes to the hotel room where the assassin came from, and another cop is interviewing the couple who are staying in the room. Keith has some blood on his shirt, which prompts the woman to freak out and ask him about the bloodstains. He looks her right in the eye and says “I took two bullets through the chest, ma’am. Just routine.” While he’s leaving, the other cop looks at the woman and goes, “He actually took three but we haven’t told him yet.”
I don’t want to give much more away, because there are a few twists and turns after this scene. I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Rogers and Keith’s chemistry is amazing, and Edward G. Robinson does a great job, as always. The cinematography is pretty great, too. This picture is such a departure from everything else I’ve seen Ginger in, which I love because it just proves to me even more why I love Ginger so much. This is my favorite film out of the three I watched.
Final Words: I recommend TIGHT SPOT the most, especially to see Ginger be so damn good. PUSHOVER is great for Novak lovers, and to see a variation of MacMurray’s Walter Neff character from DOUBLE INDEMNITY. If you like screwball comedy and want to see how it all began, or just like Carole Lombard and/or John Barrymore, watch TWENIETH CENTURY…and then watch IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT to see how it should really be done. (Too mean?)
P.S. The title comes from Novak's character in PUSHOVER.