"The Prowler" was a film noir made in 1951, just after the peak of the style in the late 1940s, while the taste for cynical, Freudian crime films was still strong, but a 1950s sensibility was beginning to creep in. The screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo, whose name was removed from the credits for decades due to his blacklisting for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee about communism in Hollywood. He was one of the "Hollywood Ten". "The Prowler" may be unique among film noirs for its reversal of iconic male and female roles. It features an homme fatal and his willing victim who, in falling for his enticements, falls prey to her own foibles.
Police officers Webb Garwood (Van Heflin) and Bud Crocker (John Maxwell) investigate a report of a prowler at the home of Susan Gilvray (Evelyn Keyes), a comely housewife who stays up nights to listen to her husband's radio program. Webb thinks Susan is "quite a dish" and decides to return at the end of his shift to check up on her. The pair discover they have a connection in their youth. They become friendly. Susan's marriage is unhappy, and Webb keeps appearing on her doorstep. He's manipulative and a bit boorish. But she can't resist. Webb has bigger plans than a fling with a frustrated housewife, though. He wants her comfortable bourgeois lifestyle too.
The crime writer James Ellroy has called "The Prowler" "perv noir". Psychosexual deviance is a common theme in film noir. "The Prowler" is not the most sophisticated in that respect. Rather, it is in-your-face creepy. Webb Garwood is outrightly predatory. His motives are thinly veiled, if at all. They are the motives of a femme fatale: sex as a means to money. His name is suggestive of the Black Widow. Susan Gilvray is not just a good girl attracted to a bad boy. He's a nearly sociopathic creep whom she insists on believing is honest. She plays the traditional male role in falling prey to the homme fatal, whose predations only serve to ensnare her in her own weaknesses.
It's all about sex and money, but with a dim view of post-War materialism. Webb believes in the American Dream -after a fashion. He wants to live on easy street but doesn't care for the socially acceptable ways of getting there. Van Helflin is fantastic as this working class guy, a predatory police officer, who dreams constantly of bourgeois comfort. He sees the world through covetous eyes. Appearances are all that matters. Susan married for comfort but found herself a virtual prisoner of a sterile husband who locks her out of her own furnishings. Somehow she can't resist the trouble that comes knocking. "The Prowler"'s small budget shows, but the lead performances pack a punch.
The DVD (VCI 2011): There are 3 featurettes, an original theatrical trailer (2 min), a Press Book Photo Gallery, and an audio commentary by film noir historian Eddie Muller. "The Cost of Living: Creating the Prowler" (25 min) interviews authors James Ellroy, Denise Hamilton, Alan K. Rode, Eddie Muller and Dalton Trumbo's son Christopher, now deceased, about the film's production history, themes, actors, the Production Code, and its 20-day shoot. "Masterpiece in the Margins" (20 min) is an interview with French director Bernard Tavernier, who praises and analyses the film. "On the Prowl: Restoring the Prowler" (9 min) interviews archivists and preservationists at the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Stanford Theater Film Lab about restoring this film and others. Eddie Muller's feature commentaries are always good, but this one is especially informative and insightful. He provides scene-by-scene analysis of themes, characters, story, structure, and background. Not a lot about technical aspects. Subtitles for the film are available in English.