Director/Studio/Author: Joseph Losey/United Artists/Dalton Trumbo (as Hugo Butler)
Distributor: VCI Entertainment
American release date: February 1, 2011 (original film release 1951)
Format/Genre/Length: DVD/Drama/92 minutes
Publisher/Industry Age Rating: NR
Overall Personal Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Susan Gilvray (Evelyn Keyes) is used to being alone at night in her large Spanish style home; her husband John spends his evenings doing his own radio show for a local station. One night after a shower, Susan spots a man peeking in her window, so she calls the police to report a prowler. Officers Webb Garwood (Van Heflin) and Bud Crocker (John Maxwell) are dispatched to her home to check into the matter.
The policemen look around, but there isn’t much to be seen. The recently cut grass shows no trace of footprints, not even in the vacant lot next door. They reassure the woman that they will keep an eye on the house. Officer Garwood seems particularly interested in the pretty lady, commenting on her to his partner as they leave her home. Later he returns, alone. He says he is simply doing his duty, but his interest in her is obvious. Turns out they both come from Indiana, and once upon a time she watched him play basketball. Now he’s a cop, which he hates. Life cheated him out of his athletic career.
Webb worms his way into Susan’s confidence and into her life, becoming obsessed with the married woman. He visits her in the absence of her husband, and she entertains and feeds him, as if he is no more than an old friend. When he goes too far and makes an advance upon her, she not only rejects him, but she indignantly slaps him and demands that he leave. But he can’t seem to stay away. He returns, in uniform, to apologize, and she ends up falling into his arms.
Now he sees her all the time, her husband’s voice on the radio a bizarre backdrop to their affair. There is something very odd about Webb. He’s a rather bitter man, he hates his job, and it seems as if nothing is ever his fault. A prescription for unhappiness and disaster in the making.
The closer they get, the more tangled the web, until they’re in so deep that they don’t know which way is up or down.
I like old films of all sorts, including film noir, which I believe this qualifies as. It’s in black and white, but that only adds to the noirish quality. Van Heflin—well, I just expected creepiness from him from the beginning, so I guess I was looking for it. You might remember him as D.O. Guerrero from the film Airport. He’s the guy with the bomb. He has a very creepy presence in The Prowler; perhaps it’s his eyes; he delivers a powerful performance as Webb Garwood. His obsession with Susan Gilvray is more than a little eerie, as are the lengths he’ll go to get what he wants. In one scene, he runs out of cigarettes but she doesn’t smoke. However, her husband has a carton, which he keeps locked up. Webb takes a hairpin from Susan’s hair—making the very act of doing so both sensual and unnerving—and picks the lock, helping himself to a pack of cigarettes. And he also eyeballs the personal papers that are there.
While I liked the film, I felt it could have delved more into the psychology of Webb Garwood and why he is like he is. All we know is that he was a starting center on his college basketball team and he was benched after two games. Perhaps we are meant to infer that he did something to bring that about. We also know that he hates being a cop, and that he lives alone in a room at a hotel and shaves himself using an electric razor while lying in bed. Susan Gilvray seems to love her husband at first, but as the film goes on you see the cracks in the façade, which perhaps explains her loneliness and her slide into the policeman’s arms.
There is a great deal of sexual tension in the film between the lonely woman and the dissatisfied policeman. I kept wondering what was going through Susan’s mind that she would allow this strange man into her life, and why she let him back in after he kissed her. It is an interesting psychological study of these two characters.
The film definitely has some twists to it, and sometimes I wasn’t sure which way it was going to go. The ending wasn’t exactly satisfying, and left a lot of unanswered questions, but perhaps that is just meant to show that not everything can be tidied up into neat little bundles and explained away. On the whole, I enjoyed watching it. It isn’t rated, but I wouldn’t recommend it for children, mostly because of the adult themes, and the darkness of the subject matter. Teens and up should be fine. Would I watch it again, given the opportunity? Probably.
Piece of trivia: Look for Aunt Harriet of TV’s Batman fame in a small role. Also, I'm guessing that Dalton Trumbo wrote this under another name because he was one of the writers blacklisted during the McCarthy era. And producer S.P. Eagle is actually Sam Spiegel.