[Film Review] The Prowler (1951)

The Prowler poster

Title: The Prowler
Year: 1951
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Film-Noir, Thriller, Drama
Director: Joseph Losey
Dalton Trumbo
Robert Thoeren
Hans Wilhelm
Music: Lyn Murray
Cinematography: Arthur C. Miller
Van Heflin
Evelyn Keyes
John Maxwell
Katherine Warren
Robert Osterloh
Emerson Treacy
Madge Blake
Wheaton Chambers
Rating: 7.9/10

The Prowler 1951

Joseph Losey’s fourth feature, an intelligent film-noir made in the US soil before he exiles to England due to HUAC witch-hunting. Written by Dalton Trumbo under pseudonym, it is a strikingly captivating two-handler between a lonely married woman Susan (Keyes) and a petrol policeman Webb (Heflin).

In 1918, Susan, leads an unhappy life with her much-older husband in a posh estate in the California suburb. One night she spots a prowler from her bathroom window, which introduces Webb into her life, both from the same town, Webb is displeased at his current vocation and he falls for Susan instantly. Susan’s husband is a night-time deejay, which secures their nightly rendezvous as a foolproof secret, but with the husband in the way, they cannot be together as a proper couple, so a sinister murder plan is brewing.

Inevitably, the resemblance of Billy Wilder’s DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) cannot be dissipated, and alerted by the usual default of a femme fatale, we hold our reserves about Susan, despite she seems to be quite harmless and docile, poles apart from Barbara Stanwyck’s cold-blooded conspirator Phyllis Dietrichson. It could be her front since the film is exclusively told from Webb’s angle, we see what Webb is scheming and doing, yet we are intrigued to guess maybe Susan is his unseen partner-in-crime, that’s an excellent manoeuvre from Trumbo’s savvy script, at some point, Susan’s abrupt change of heart to ask Webb to take her away does makes her suspicious, and Webb’s rational response is even more head-scratching, not until his “prowler” plan materializes that audience realises his real motive, and a subsequent “happy union” proves Susan her innocence.

What is next? The undoing of the murderer and Susan’s ultimate discovery of the truth, again, Trumbo shuns from all the secondary fodder, and let their own bad seed become their Achilles heels, which also ingeniously echoes the catchphrase earlier “Sometimes a little delay does the trick”, only if they had a little delay, they could get away from it with all the blessings of the world. Losey gallantly sets the finale in a blustering ghost town, after the brief peace, the ominous record of Susan’s dead husband bugles the doom of the wrongdoer, whose indignant condemnation of the unjust society rings true before his “halt halt halt” fate.

THE PROWLER is an epitome of film-noir, spins a murder plan under the minimal setting, it is an intensely engrossing drama with two superb performances from its leads, and casts a shadow to our current society long after its own time, it deserves more credits and should be enshrined along with other tested masterpieces

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