TCM Pick for August: Film Noir

Best thing about selecting The Prowler as my TCM film noir pick of the month? It nudged me into replacing my barely watchable VHS copy with a spanking brand-new DVD! Second best? It gave me an excuse to give a much-appreciated re-watch to this unique and first-rate example of the film noir era. Released in 1951 and starring Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes, The Prowler airs August 6th, part of the Van Heflin spotlight during TCM’s month-long Summer Under the Stars extravaganza.  (For some other excellent Heflin noir performances, I strongly urge you to catch Possessed and Act of Violence, as well as Johnny Eager, for which Heflin deservedly won an Academy Award. But I digress.)

The plot:

Susan Gilvray (Evelyn Keyes), lonely wife of a nighttime radio personality, calls the cops after she spies a prowler outside of her window. One of the officers who answers the call is (love this name!) Webb Garwood (Van Heflin), who makes no secret of his instant attraction to the distressed damsel. Webb’s interest is piqued when he learns that said damsel just happens to be from the same area in Indiana from which he hails. (It’s a small world after all!) And the fact that she’s “happily” married doesn’t seem to matter – to either of them, as it turns out. But when Webb comes up with a foolproof plan to snag the girl of his dreams, it turns out to be a nightmare for all concerned – and that’s just the first half of the movie!

My favorite scene begins . . .

Favorite scene:

It’s brief, but it’s one of the steamiest scenes I can think of in all of film noir. After being rebuffed by Susan during a previous visit, Webb returns to her home to apologize for his brutish behavior. With little opposition, Webb is soon talking Susan into sharing a dance, during which he offers up a hypothetical, “what if” supposition, founded on the premise that they could have met at a school dance years earlier. Holding Susan in an embrace that is equally gentle, firm, and passion-filled, Webb murmurs in her ear what could have happened: “I’d have asked you your name and you’d have told me. I’d have told you how swell you danced. How pretty you were.” Before long, Webb is slowly, deliberately moving in for a kiss, and Susan is begging him – oh, so halfheartedly – to stop. And when the camera moves from the couple to the radio across the room – well, need I say more?

Favorite quote:

Offering up two faves again this month:

“If I was happily married to a girl like you, I wouldn’t leave you alone nights.” Webb Garwood (Van Heflin)

“You’re a real cop, aren’t you? You want everything free.” Susan Gilvray (Evelyn Keyes)

Van Heflin: Cop? Or prowler?

Other stuff:

The film was produced, according to the credits, by S.P. Eagle – who is actually Sam Spiegel, a close friend of John Huston’s who teamed with the director to create the independent film production company, Horizon Pictures.  (The company would go on to produce such classics as The African Queen, Bridge Over the River Kwai, and Lawrence of Arabia.) Spiegel was married for several years to actress Lynn Baggett . . . but that’s another story for another post. (Stay tuned!)

At the time The Prowler was filmed, star Evelyn Keyes was married to famed director John Huston.

Novelist James Ellroy included The Prowler in his list of 10 favorite crime movies, and described it as a “masterpiece of sexual creepiness.” In one of the extras on the DVD (a fascinating “making of” featurette that also includes commentary by my pal, author Alan Rode), Ellroy calls Van Heflin “the biggest perv in film noir history.” (Har!)

The radio announcer was voiced by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo wrote the screenplay for the film, but used the name of a friend – Hugo Butler – as a front.

Heflin and Keyes in yet another great scene from the film.

The film was directed by Joseph Losey who, also that year, was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Rather than appear before the committee, Losey sought exile in Great Britain and continued working under the name Joseph Walton.

The assistant director on the film was Robert Aldrich, who went on to helm the noir features Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and The Big Knife (1955), and a variety of other films including Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964), The Dirty Dozen (1967), and The Longest Yard (1974). 

The Prowler airs on TCM on August 6th. Take a tip from me and don’t miss it! And if you love the film as much as I do, you may just want to purchase your own copy of the DVD – the extras alone are worth the purchase price!

After all, you only owe it to yourself.

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~ by shadowsandsatin on July 31, 2012.

8 Responses to “TCM Pick for August: Film Noir”

  1. Webb Garwood is THE BEST name! Terrific post, too.

  2. [...] aug 6: turns out to be very good day with something for everyone from Van Helfin. Johnny Eager is a great noir with Heflin practically stealing the movie from the “TNT” leads, (Robert Taylor and Lana Turner). 3:10 to Yuma is a super western, one of my faves, and I’m looking forward to seeing Battle Cry for the first time. But a sentimental fave for me is Presenting Lily Mars, with young ambitious small town girl Judy Garland trying to pester her way into Heflin’s stage production. Of course she wins him over with amazing singing; also features the great voice of Hungarian opera singer Martha Eggerth. Karen at shadows & satin recommends & writes extensively on Heflin noir the Prowler. [...]

  3. I have been hearing good things about The Prowler for a few years now, but you’ve moved it up to “must see” in my book. Of course, the way my project is going, it may be a few years before I get around to it, but what would life be without things to look forward to?

    • You must share more about your project, Adam! If you ever have some downtime, though, I hope you’ll squeeze in The Prowler!

      • Film Forum is great. When I lived in New York I went all the time. Now that I’m in Chicago the Music Box Theatre is my spot.

        Karen, when I referred to my project, I was mostly talking about my blog. Since I like to immerse myself in the films, music, newspaper strips, radio shows (and soon, TV) of 64 years ago, I’m loath to jump ahead a couple of years to watch a movie, since I know it’ll come up in the rotation soon, and there are always more movies to watch and review than I have time for. (I’m in the spring/summer of 1948 right now.) Plus it seems a little like “peeking into the near future.”

        I guess I’m a “bite off more than I can chew” kind of guy, since right now I’m trying to finish reading Anna Karenina before I watch the Vivien Leigh version from 1948. Three-hundred pages down, just 600 to go!

  4. I saw it on the big screen at NYC’s Film Forum a couple of years ago. It’s a good one and the final part of the movie is bleak, even for noir.

    • I have heard so much about the Film Forum — I sure would love to be able to see some of the films they show! I totally agree — it’s a totally bleak ending which, of course, I love!

  5. Ha! I see we both have articles up on THE PROWLER.! We do have good taste don’t we (LOL). I love this film and like you, I like bleak endings. I also like the quote y our use “you’re a real cop, you want everything for free.” Great stuff! Both Van Heflin and Keyes are excellent. Keyes had what is probably the best role of her career in this film.

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