The Prowler ★★★★★

Joseph Losey (The Servant) could’ve led a sidebar cinematic revolution astride Nicholas Ray in Hollywood... had he not been blacklisted. Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was also blacklisted after this film, making The Prowler one of the most important reminders of how silly McCarthyism was and how it robbed the industry of some great filmmakers. Losey went to the UK to work and never returned to the US and the point of no return, to not be pushed around and go back to your abuser, is appropriate for both The Prowler, noir in general, and Losey’s response to Hollywood.

The Prowler is noir, but it has horror elements. You can see the influence of using the camera as a peeping tom that would come to influence Psycho and Peeping Tom almost a decade later. But there’s extra horror in the dual possessiveness of two men. One we hear on the radio as the disc jockey demands his wife (Evelyn Keyes) listen to it and not go out because he doesn’t trust her. He creepily signs off his broadcasts with the line, “I’ll be seeing you, Susan.” When she’s spied on in her shower she calls the police and one of the responding police officers (Van Heflin) starts dropping in on her since he knows her schedule. Susan’s time is not her own it’s spent hiding from her husband with another man who gets kicks out of the reliability of her aloneness and she’s trapped because her husband will ask her about the broadcast (and not her day, for what’s there to ask?).

When Officer Garland (Heflin) decides to stage a peeping tom scenario when her husband is home it’s a further attempt to gain full control of Susan by offing her husband. In Susan we have the early fingerprints of home invasion horror. And in Officer Garland, there’s a bit of paranoia that’d creep into Cold War films, the fear of being scapegoated/found out despite being “no worse than anyone else”; everyone cheats the system but needs one person to take the fall for all the other sins. And maniacs take those “everyone else” excuses even further. The talk about his failed college basketball career/education is key here, as America started educating classes who never had received a college degree, Garland’s overstepping with his coach takes him out of the New Deal system and it drives his fear of being left behind, cut out of the New Deal.

This peeping beginning pre-dated Rear Window, Psycho, and Peeping Tom, but it’s a classic McGuffin. The creeper isn’t the prowler who gives us the POV of Susan showering, but it’s the man who knows a lonely woman’s schedule and can manipulate it to his advantage.

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