The Prowler

Dir: Joseph Losey, 1951. Starring: Van Heflin, Evelyn Keyes, John Maxwell. Film Noir.
The Prowler
God Bless the “Czar of Noir,” Eddie Muller, for he has single-handedly rescued America’s noir heritage from the dustbin of history. Eddie is the founder and president of the Film Noir Foundation, a non-profit that raises money to preserve old noir films whose surviving negatives are on the verge of being lost forever all so that future generations can enjoy these seedy little tales of B-movie heaven.   One recent rescue was of Joseph Losey’s The Prowler, a sweaty, kinky thriller that also serves as a vituperative denunciation of capitalism and its effects on people. Van Heflin plays Webb Garwood, a pervy cop with a chip on his shoulder and a peeping tom fetish. He snoops around the outside of a stately home after dark while on his beat “perving on the woman” as James Ellroy suitably and salaciously puts it on one of the DVD’s extras. The woman is housewife Susan, a trapped trophy wife stuck pacing the halls of her mansion, in limbo while her husband works nights as a radio DJ. Her husband’s voice fills the house from the radio and gives off an ominous echo to Webb’s creepy spying as Susan never really seems to be alone.

Webb likes what he sees from his pervy perch in the front yard. He wants the life of a well-to-do loafer with an easy job and easier money. He fetishizes Susan’s good looks but also the wealth she has acquired by marrying her absentee husband. Webb and his partner are the cops called when Susan spots the prowler so you know this isn’t going to turn out well. Soon, though, Webb and Susan are spending their nights together and the illicit romance is their escape from their mutual dissatisfaction with life. The murder of the inconvenient husband and its cover-up briefly solves Webb’s problems but eventually his crime catches up with him culminating in a beautifully stark desert showdown between Webb and the police. A pregnant Susan is left behind in a dinky shack, forced to accept that her two timing with a guy like Webb led to her husband's murder.

Joseph Losey was one of the Hollywood Ten—the group of screenwriters brought before a Grand Jury and accused of harboring Communist sympathies. Many of them never worked in Hollywood again and indeed Losey had to eventually move to England where he made such intense examinations of sexual politics and class politics as in The Servant.  One can find an awful lot of anti-capitalist sympathies in The Prowler where Susan, for example, is treated as another of her husband's many posessions. He locks his cigarettes away while he is at work and to an extent Susan is just as cut off as his smokes are though Webb knows how to pick a lock or two. Though the name The Prowler is good, lurid tabloid stuff the original title of the film was The Cost of Living. As the husband signs off his radio program each night by saying, "Remember folks, the cost of living is going down!" it serves as a fitting epitaph for all of the characters as they each meet a fate best summed up by James Ellroy with his two word summation of the real gist of noir: "You're fucked." 

Posted by:
Jed Leland
Feb 16, 2012 6:48pm
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