Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Prowler

Ed here: This is an excerpt from a TCM piece on this film, for me one of the the best noirs ever written and filmed.

The Prowler stars Van Heflin as an unhappy policeman, Webb Garwood, and Evelyn Keyes as a bored housewife, Susan Gilvray, who spends her nights alone as her husband hosts a radio show. Susan reports a prowler one night; Webb and his partner (John Maxwell) investigate. They find nothing, but there's something "off" about Webb right off the bat. He snoops around Susan's house more than he needs to, picking up photos, and he talks back to her in a smart-alecky way. It's disquieting to witness a uniformed cop -- a figure of trust -- behaving not just so unprofessionally, but even aggressively, in such a situation. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Webb sees in Susan's house and life a glimpse of upper-middle-class success that he has yearned for, and which he wants immediately. He hatches a long scheme to seduce Susan which must be seen spoiler-free, but suffice it to say that delicious, if not outlandish, plot turns eventually move the action from Susan's lonely, cold house on an otherwise pleasant street, to a lonely, depressing hotel on a Las Vegas highway, and finally to a lonely, desert ghost town in the middle of nowhere. Writer Trumbo and director Losey are smart enough to realize that while the narrative logic may be questionable, the emotional, thematic -- and above all, visual -- logic justifies the plot turns. Each landscape becomes progressively bleaker and more remote, which is a clear comment on the nature of the characters' relationship and the futility of Webb's scheme.

Running through The Prowler is a strong undercurrent of social class tension and a dark, subversive take on the American dream of wealth and success. The unstable Webb is motivated not by lust so much as by Susan's home, trappings, and lifestyle. The fragile and vulnerable Susan, for her part, clearly married her husband to tap into such a world herself, but her boredom indicates that getting to that world is no guarantee of happiness. These ironies are of great interest to Trumbo and Losey, and they lend a fascinating complexity to the characters. Heflin and Keyes give performances that are among their finest work on screen, expressing deep levels of subtext both physically and verbally.

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