The Prowler (1951) (VCI) has been one of those acknowledged classics of film noir that many have had to take on faith for far too long.
All but absent from TV screenings since the early days of cable TV, never released on VHS and previously unavailable on DVD, The Prowler has been almost impossible to see, something of an orphan thanks to being independently produced outside the studio system by Sam Spiegel (using the credit S.P. Eagle) for his own company, Horizon Pictures. Prints were wearing out, original elements lost or destroyed and no studio was there to step in and preserve the film until the Film Noir foundation partnered with the UCLA Film and Television Archive to restore the film from the best materials they could find anywhere. The result is manna from noir heaven: a nearly stellar edition of film that, until a couple of years ago, was relegated to rare TV prints and even rarer repertory revivals of a sole, increasingly overworked circulating 35mm print.
Directed by Joseph Losey for Spiegel as he was also making The African Queen and scripted by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo (behind front Hugo Butler), The Prowler (which was produced under the working title “The High Cost of Living”) is a classic of working class envy, restless resentment of the “bad breaks” that arrogance and assumed entitlement get you and the brutal opportunism of a former golden boy willing to do anything to get what he’s sure is due him.
Van Heflin, an actor who (3:10 to Yuma excepted) hasn’t impressed me much, is, in a word, brilliant as Webb Garwood, the small town sports hero who sabotaged his future. Now he goes through the motions of public service as a beat cop while he looks through the windows of opportunity along his beat. What he finds is a woman left alone every night by her radio deejay husband. Evelyn Keyes is lovely young wife Susan Gilvray, married to the disembodied voice on the radio who signs off every broadcast with “I’ll be seeing you, Susan,” which starts out as a lover’s promise and ends as a threat. Using the implied authority of his uniform to insinuate himself into her home, ostensibly to follow up on a prowler scare, we see Webb worm his way into her life.