Friday, January 4, 2019

The Prowler (Part II) (1951)

May 25, 1951, release date
Directed by Joseph Losey
Screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, Hugo Butler
Based on a story by Robert Thoeren, Hans Wilhelm
Music by Lyn Murray
Edited by Paul Weatherwax
Cinematography by Arthur C. Miller

Van Heflin as Webb Garwood
Evelyn Keyes as Susan Gilvray
John Maxwell as Bud Crocker
Katherine Warren as Grace Crocker
Emerson Treacy as William Gilvray
Madge Blake as Martha Gilvray
Wheaton Chambers as Dr. William James
Robert Osterloh as the coroner
Louise Lorimer as the motel manager
Sherry Hall as John Gilvray
Dalton Trumbo as the radio voice of John Gilvray (uncredited)

Produced by Horizon Pictures
Distributed by United Artists

I wrote about The Prowler in November 2018 for the Classic Movie Blog Association (CMBA) 2018 Fall Blogathon: Outlaws. I said then that The Prowler is a very unsettling film, and I find it even more so after a second and a third viewing. The main character, Patrol Officer Webb Garwood, is creepy, and that very creepiness is just one factor that makes the film thoroughly noir.

Click here for my first blog post about The Prowler.

The DVD that I borrowed came with features that I’m sure fans of film noir and classic films in general would enjoy. I can recommend three out of four of them; the fourth had what I think of as a technical difficulty. The three features that I am recommending are so thorough that they deserve a blog post devoted to them. Here are short summaries of all four:

“The Cost of Living: Creating The Prowler,” with Eddie Muller, James Ellroy, Christopher Trumbo, Denise Hamilton, Alan K. Rode:
This feature had lots of interesting details about the film and its production. Here are just a few examples.
1. The film was originally called “The Cost of Living.”
2. The work of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) affected the lives of many working on the film, but especially Dalton Trumbo, who was already blacklisted by the time the film was released. The producers allowed Trumbo to fill in for the voice of John Gilvray, Susan’s husband, on the radio program that the Gilvray character hosts.
3. The Prowler was one of the most successful feature films of 1951. It was double-billed with another film noir, The Hoodlum, starring Lawrence Tierney.

“Masterpiece in the Margins: Bertrand Tavernier on The Prowler”:
It was really difficult to hear what Tavernier was saying. I tried to use the English subtitles for this featurette, but they didn’t work for anything but the film itself. I can’t recommend this feature, but maybe others will have an easier time hearing Tavernier.

On the Prowl: Restoring The Prowler”:
This feature talks about finding usable prints, including a print of The Prowler, and restoring them for screening quality. If you are interested in learning about the process, this feature is definitely worth the time.

DVD audio commentary by Eddie Muller:
Muller packed a lot of information into this commentary. He had a lot to say about the effects that the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had on so many of the artists involved in the original film production. The screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted by HUAC by the time this film was in production, but he put his stamp on the film by playing the radio voice of John Gilvray, Susan’s husband, on Gilvray’s radio program, which is featured in the film’s plot. I loved how Muller alludes to this in the last line of his commentary, “I’ll be seeing you, Susan,” which is the last line from John Gilvray’s radio show in the film.

Muller maintains that The Prowler is one of the first stalker films, but I disagree with this assertion: Raymond Burr played a stalker (MacDonald, aka Mac) in Pitfall, which was released in 1948. In that film, Burr played a private investigator who impersonates an ex-cop and uses his influence as an ex-cop to harass and stalk Lizabeth Scott’s character, Mona Stevens.

I wrote about Pitfall in September 2015. Click here for my blog post.

I recommend Muller’s commentary with two caveats: (1) his comments about Evelyn Keyes’s favorite word and (2) his belief that James Ellroy would know the location of the Gilvrays’ house (the setting of a lot of the film) because he probably broke into it as a teenager. Muller goes into more detail than I am providing here, but I thought his observations on these two particular points were unnecessary and unflattering to two people he calls friends.

In a way, though, I enjoyed the features even more than the film itself. They helped me enjoy The Prowler more, to see past the creepiness of Patrol Officer Webb Garwood. I found the film incredibly unsettling on first viewing, which is exactly one of the reasons that it is so noir. The level of creepiness that Van Heflin puts into his role of Webb Garwood is proof of his acting ability. I still can’t stop squirming when I think about Garwood, his scheming, and the extent of his betrayal in the film.

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