Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Just as there is "no crying in baseball", there is no perfect crime in film noir. That's what Van Heflin learns the hard way in THE PROWLER (1951) which I watched last night.

A woman (Evelyn Keyes) sees a prowler outside her Los Angeles home and calls the police. Two uniformed officers arrive to investigate. One of them is Heflin who, right from the start, you can tell is a bubble off plumb. The woman is home alone every night while her husband works as a disc jockey for an all-night radio program. Heflin likes what he sees in the attractive blond and he pays a follow up visit without his partner.

He quickly comes on to Keyes and although she at first refuses his advances, she ultimately gives in. They begin an illicit and torrid affair but the husband soon starts to suspect and quits his job to stay home with his wife. What to do?

Playing on the fact of the previous prowler call, Heflin stages a break-in at the house, knowing the husband will investigate. He does and Heflin guns him down but arranges things to look like an accidental homicide. At the following police inquest, Heflin is acquitted of any wrong doing and the path to the new widow Keyes is now open to him.

Keyes believes his innocence and the two marry and move to Las Vegas where they buy a motor court. But she has some unexpected news for Heflin that causes his carefully laid plans to suddenly start to fatally unwind.

From the streets of Los Angeles to a dramatic climax in the high desert, THE PROWLER is a spare, taut little masterpiece. Joseph Losey directed the film from a screenplay (uncredited) by Dalton Trumbo. Oddly enough, both men were later blacklisted in the Hollywood witch-hunts of the '50s. Losey moved to England and made films there for the rest of his career. He never returned to the United States. Trumbo was out of official screenwriting work for many years although he did write material that was submitted under other names. It would be years before a screenplay credit with his name would appear on a Hollywood film.

THE PROWLER has been championed by James Ellroy, the dean of hard boiled American crime fiction and the film has undergone a complete digital restoration courtesy of the UCLA film school.

I had never seen this film, much less even heard of it, until I chanced to see the listing for it on Turner Classic Movies. It sounded interesting so I recorded it and watched it last night. I'm glad I did. It's a top-notch noir and highly recommended. Check it out.

No comments:

Post a Comment