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.)
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!
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?
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)
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.
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.