The Prowler (1951)

“She had to keep THE PROWLER from telling …” Directed by Joseph Losey and scripted by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (using Hugo Butler as his front), The Prowler is the only film noir I’m aware of that starts in Los Angeles and ends in the dusty outskirts of a ghost town in the Mojave Desert. A bleak vision of the American dream, this offbeat film stars Van Heflin as creepy, manipulative cop “Webb Garwood,” who hates his job and becomes obsessed with bored housewife “Susan Gilvray” (Evelyn Keyes) after he and his partner, duller-than-dishwater rock collector “Bud Crocker” (John Maxwell), investigate a prowling incident at her home. Before you know it, the aggressive Webb has totally integrated himself into Susan’s cozy but boring and predictable life (her wealthy husband, “John,” is a late-night radio DJ, actually voiced by Trumbo!). A former high school basketball star, the bitter Webb now dreams of opening a cheap motel off the freeway. After seeing the Gilvrays’ hefty life insurance policy, Webb plans to bump off John and marry Susan but as you can probably expect, everything is going to end up badly. Losey was blacklisted by Hollywood in 1952 and fled to Europe to continue making films such as The Servant (1963) and Accident (1967), among many others. Crime novelist James Ellroy once called The Prowler “a masterpiece of sexual creepiness, institutional corruption and suffocating, ugly passion.”

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