This film is an example of what author James Ellroy calls "Perv Noir". I have never heard that classification before, but it amuses me. I first saw Van Heflin in 3:10 TO YUMA and I got a certain impression of him from that film. He had this certain nobility that made him feel like a lot of his contemporaries. It wasn't until just in the last year or so that I caught a few Van Heflin movies that shifted things around for me. The first was POSSESSED with he and Joan Crawford. In that film he plays kind of a ladies man who draws in Crawford and then gets bored and blows her off. She doesn't take that too well so she kinda stalks him a bit. Anyway, it gave me a whole new impression of Van Heflin. He was playing not only charming, but also aloof and distant and being something of an asshole. It caught me off guard a bit, but I must admit he played it quite well so I couldn't help but be impressed with his performance. So then enter THE PROWLER. Like POSSESSED, it was a noir and as with POSSESSED, Van Heflin again plays a ladies-man-on-the-prowl (pun intended). He plays a cop who finds himself really attracted to this woman (Evelyn Keyes) that he meets when he and his partner are called in to investigate a prowler at her home. She's married, but that doesn't bother him too much. Folks much smarter than I have summed it up well in calling Heflin's character the "homme fatale" in this film. That's right on the mark and he makes a great homme fatale at that. But the movie is a twisty thriller of sorts and it goes to some unexpected places. Overall it has the classic sense of fatalism and dread about it that accompanies the great noirs of the period. I mean it's not quite DETOUR-level fatalism or anything as Van Heflin is a bit more pro-active. Heflin's character is a guy who thinks he has everything figured out, but what's great about the noir universe is that is almost dares its characters to think that and then takes great glee in pulling the rug out from under them. This film played a few times at the Film Noir festival that happens annually at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles. More than once I almost went to see it that way, but was unable to attend for one reason or another. So my friends who have seen it have been telling me I need to check it out for many years now. I even bought it on DVD but never got around to watching it! Ridiculous I know and now I feel even more the fool about it because it's such a solid movie. I'm glad I waited though as this Blu-ray transfer (from a restoration done by the Film Noir Foundation) looks excellent and when combined with the supplements (see below) that are also on the disc, it reaches Criterion-level goodness. A must own for film noir fans and classic film fans.
As I said, this VCI disc has Criterion appeal in terms of the total package. In fact, I'd recommend it as a gift you can get for the Criterion collector in your life who adores classic film. Here are the supplements you get:
-first off, there's an excellent Audio commentary from film noir guru Eddie Mulller. Muller has done other commentaries before and they are all great. He's a guy I never get tired of listening to. There's just something about his love and fascination with noir that is absolutely infectious. I think it has to do with the fact that he is academic without being dry. He has a good sense of humor and that often informs his thoughts and observations about films. He also has a knack for digging out the cool geeky details and stories from behind the scenes of a movie. The fact that Dalton Trumbo is actually the voice of the disc jockey husband on the radio is a neat thing that is mentioned here for instance. It's a track that is rich with so much information though. Great commentary, one of the best I've heard in a while.
- "The Cost of Living: Creating THE PROWLER" (25 mins)
"Van Heflin is the biggest perv in film noir history. " This is one of the first quotes you hear from author James Ellroy in this piece and it sets the tone in an interesting way. It is Eddie Muller though who leads the charge in terms of much of the information that is doled out about this film. Authors Denise Hamilton, Christopher Trumbo and Alan K. Rode participate as well. All parties discuss the difficulties this independent noir faced in getting made, the subversiveness of the story, details of the below the line crew and the context of other films that were contemporary to it. Apparently Evelyn Keyes jumped at the chance to play this very complex female role and it was material that her then husband John Huston found for her and sort of gave to her as a parting gift to her (as they both saw that their marriage was in decline). Watching this featurette totally upped my appreciation for this film. It really made me see it as more of a minor masterpiece of noir brilliance.
-"Masterpiece in the Margins - Bertrand Tavernier on THE PROWLER" (20 mins) in this interview with director Tavernier ('ROUND MIDNIGHT, COUP DE TORCHON) he makes a case for THE PROWLER not only being one of Joseph Losey's best films, but it also being one of the ten best noirs of the genre. He is extremely passionate about this movie and it comes through big time in his praise for all aspects of the movie.
Bonus: Evelyn Keyes on the Tonight Show back in 1991: