Poor Susan Gilvray. One night she sees a peeping tom watching her through her bathroom window, so she does the sensible thing and calls the cops. But that prowler was but a fleeting invasion of her privacy. The cop who comes to her rescue brings a more sustained intrusion into her life. She has made a mistake in inviting this emotional vampire into her home. He sizes up what he sees–a huge suburban mansion, and a shapely blonde within-and decides he wants it all. The prowler scampers off into the night, never to be seen again. The cop, however, stays.
Compared to Joseph Losey’s previous films, The Boy with Green Hair (1948) and The Lawless (1950), his third outing switches tone. The first two films were scathing social critiques that explored mob psychology, while The Prowler (1951) is a focused character study on one man. Policeman Webb Garwood (Van Heflin) is shown to be a selfish, murderous wreck, but there is nothing to suggest he is meant to be emblematic of police in general. His psychological cracks are unique, and the other patrolman in the story is portrayed as a gentle old coot, as harmless as they come. If there is a social message underneath this noir tale, it is not in the man but in the man’s desires.
“The Prowler to me is, and always has been, a film about false values,” explained Losey, “About the means justifying the end and the end justifying the means. ‘100,000 bucks, a Cadillac, and a blonde’ were the sine qua non of American life at that time and it didn’t matter how you got them.”
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