The definition of noir is a subject of mild debate. But generally, classic film noir consists of films made throughout the 1940s (give or take a couple of years) here in America by foreign filmmakers. They are darker both thematically and visually than other films of the period. They often revolve around crime and/or criminals. There’s usually a woman (or two or three) involved. The men are quiet and violently temperamental. The women are often temperamentally seditious. They depict a society where no one can be trusted, least of all the authorities. The dialogue comes fast and loose. It’s dead sexy, but in the dirtiest possible way. It’s the kind of sex you feel guilty about afterwards, but will still go looking for the next time you get the itch. The Prowler, released in 1951 meets many of these criteria, but still stands out as somewhat darker and more unique. It was directed by Joseph Losey, who was born in Wisconsin, but studied under Bertolt Brecht in Germany. His Brechtian scholarship no doubt lent heavily to the staging of this film. At times, the scene work feels as if one is watching a filmed stage production. Dalton Trumbo, victim of the famed Hollywood Blacklist of the time secretly wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym Hugo Butler. Interestingly, Trumbo also maintains a presence as the voice of the radio announcer throughout the film. Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes star as the doomed lovers Webb and Susan. This movie was partially produced by a then-uncredited John Huston , who was married to Keyes at the time of its production and extended the role to her as a possible star vehicle to launch her career. It worked, but only to an extent. While she was recognized for her work in this one, it would prove to be her first and last true leading role. Still, she worked pretty steadily for much of the rest of her life, appearing on television as well as in movies. Keye’s partner in this production, Van Heflin, was a steady face on the Hollywood scene of the day. Having won the Oscar ten years earlier for his performance in a film called Johnny Eager, he had established himself as something of an actor’s actor, even if he never quite claimed a spot on the Hollywood “It” list. In the film, Susan finds herself alone night after night in her LA mansion while her husband spins the jazz hits at the local radio station. One night, having just climbed out of the bathtub, she glances out the window to see a prowler peering in at her. The police arrive, but can find no trace of any peeping Tom. However, one of the officers finds himself driven to distraction by the vulnerable housewife and makes an extra effort to check in on her. While bumming one of her husband’s cigarettes from the desk, Officer Webb discovers the man’s will. His check-ins become somewhat habit-forming, and the two soon find themselves deeply involved in an affair, spending their evenings to the soundtrack provided by her husband at the radio station. When hubby signs off with his signature “I’ll be seeing you, Susan!”, it acts as Webb’s cue to get dressed and beat feet. But as time wears on, the arrangement begins to wear equally on both of them. Webb eventually manipulates a situation which enables him to not only shoot Susan’s husband, but to get away with it. He leaves the force, marries Susan, and uses her former husband’s money to buy a Vegas motor lodge. All of which seems like a happily ever after, until Susan announces on their wedding that she’s four months pregnant with Webb’s baby. Considering she had just testified in court within the past month that she had no memory of ever meeting Officer Webb before the night he “accidentally” shot her husband, this pregnancy is problematic for both of them. Webb has a plan, though. He whisks his bride off to an abandoned ghost town with a plan to deliver the baby himself. Unfortunately, Susan develops complications as she goes into early labor, forcing Webb to more or less kidnap a doctor from a nearby town for assistance. Susan, having finally realized that Webb had intentionally killed her husband, asks the doctor to take the baby and go to the police. Webb, recognizing the betrayal, tries to pursue the doctor, but is stopped by his former partner. He is shot while fleeing the arriving police. What really makes this a great piece of noir is the deep-cut flaws in the two protagonists. Susan’s loneliness leads her into brazen acts of adultery with what amounts to a random stranger. Webb’s misguided affection is a desperate downward spiral. The story begins looking through the eyes of a peeping Tom and sinks ever lower from there. As the screenplay spools out, and the characters sink deeper into their illicit depravity, there remains no shadow of judgement. In fact, the presentation of the story maintains a somewhat frustrating neutrality throughout. The only real indictment suffered is Webb’s, as his abuse of power as an officer of the law both sets the story into motion and is echoed in his eventual fate. Trumbo, when writing the screenplay, clearly had an axe to grind with the authorities who had forced him into anonymity in the wake of the activity of the disastrous House Un-American Committee (HUAC) led by Senator Joe McCarthy. In the character of Officer Webb Garwood, Trumbo found a way to encapsulate the insinuation of HUAC into the fabric of American life. With Susan Gilvray, he showed us the innocent fears which can give rise to violations of basic liberties, leading to terror and forced isolation. See larger image The Prowler [Blu-ray] Famed director Joseph Losey’s long neglected masterpiece, scripted by legendary blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, has been restored to its original bleak splendor by the Film Noir Foundation and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. A nefarious cop stalks a lonely, repressed Los Angeles housewife and decides to win her in the traditional film noir fashion – by knocking off her husband! New From: $16.93 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.