The Prowler (1951)
While greed, adultery and murder are favorite subjects for the Noir genre this Joseph Losey directed effort adds self pity and cruelty into the mix with a sledge hammer as the film nears it’s climax.
No stranger to the genre is our leading man Van Heflin who stars here as a patrolman called into check out a prowler complaint. The call has been made by what appears to be a lonely woman in the form of Evelyn Keyes. Right from the beginning Heflin is flirting and even doubles back later that night after his shift to make sure she’s alright. From here an adulterous relationship begins as Keyes husband is a local radio personality through the night allowing our mischievous couple plenty of time to get steamy.
Unlike many other Noir titles it’s Heflin who is doing the plotting and not the femme fatale. He’s very calculating in how he handles the relationship between him and Keyes. For Keyes the sex and passion have become a drug and she can’t stay away from Van. “Take me away. He’ll always be between us.” she implores him in reference to her husband.
This sets up the perfect reason for murder when her husband (who remains off screen other than a voice on the radio) will apparently never let her go. Heflin takes up the initiative and in a perfectly orchestrated killing makes it all look neat and tidy while on the job.
When the death is ruled an accidental homicide, Heflin bides his time before staging the second part of his plan which includes quitting the force and marrying Keyes. It turns out she’s a rather wealthy woman now due to a tried and true plot device of the Noir genre. The life insurance policy.
Life couldn’t be better. For a short while at least until Keyes becomes pregnant which is bound to foul things up when the math is done on the moment of conception. It’s before the killing and her late husband was sterile.
I’ll stop now as the film needs to be seen and I don’t want to spoil the ending.
Evelyn Keyes character isn’t a typical one for the women of the genre. She’s more of a victim here as opposed to a Barbara Stanwyck type. She’s always suspecting Heflin but never sure. She’s obviously lonely and sexually frustrated. When Heflin comes calling her fate is sealed.
It’s Van Heflin who is superbly evil here and at the same time wallowing in self pity as his plans unwind towards the ending. Heflin is so good here in a dark role it’s very hard to see him one year later as a caring homesteader in Shane. It’s a major credit to him as an actor to go from one extreme to the other so seamlessly. In my mind Van has always been a rather underrated actor who like many of his era has slipped from the general public’s awareness. Unfortunate. I’ll have to feature more of his titles on here in the future.
This rather cruel Noir was actually credited to one Hugo Butler. That’s an alias for Dalton Trumbo. The film was from the production team of Sam Spiegel and John Huston. Huston was actually married to leading lady Keyes at the time.
This was released by VCI in a top notch restoration with plenty of extras for the collectors like me.