“It’s been weird knowing you,” Kim Novak (in her debut) tells Fred MacMurray in Pushover. Viewers looking forward to a Double Indemnity experience will be disappointed. Pushover is so implausible it takes the fun out of the genre. Novak is no Barbara Stanwyck, and her character is no Phyllis Dietrichson. In fact, her potential as a duplicitous schemer is never developed, and in the end she’s just a sweet kid mixed up with the wrong crowd. MacMurray comes nowhere near his fabulous turn as Walter Neff ten years earlier; he doesn't have the same conviction he displayed in 1944. Nightfall may not be a five-star film, but it has its moments, and it’s in similar moments that all the films in Film Noir Classics II shine. To enjoy the collection, it’s best not to compare the films to beloved favorites but to, instead, allow them to stand on their own.
Perhaps no film noir cliché is left unturned in these five movies; those who love noir will enjoy them nonetheless. The Brothers Rico offers up Richard Conte as a former thug gone straight who is pulled in by his former boss for “one last favor.” Naturally, all he has done to redeem himself from his gangster past—wife, family, career—are in jeopardy. One of the special features is "Martin Scorsese on The Brothers Rico."
Vince Edwards, 1960s television’s gruff Dr. Ben Casey, stars in City of Fear, the story of a simple criminal who thinks he’s lucked into a large quantity of heroin. Silly boy, it’s really “a deadly radioactive substance called Cobalt-60.” Edwards quickly runs out of friends as his contacts fall victim to their contact with the radioactive horse. Noir despair is the real star here, as the cops try to catch the bad guy before Los Angeles is contaminated by a substance that is truly stronger than dirt.
Human Desire, the sexiest title in the collection, is also the best. It's directed by Fritz Lang, adapted from an Emile Zola novel (La Bete Humaine, filmed in 1939 by Jean Renoir), and features the intimate cinematography of Burnett Guffey. The Korean War veteran (veterans play a big part in noir, perhaps because war is nothing compared to what women have in store for these guys) in Human Desire is played by Glenn Ford. Gloria Grahame and Broderick Crawford shine as the slightly mismatched couple who provide the engine that moves this train, while Peggy Maley adds the spark with snappy lines that were not from the pen of Emile Zola.