Movie review: The Prowler (1951)

Finally, Marvel Studios introduces Spider-Man properly in a new series of one-off movies about his foe, The Prowler! No.

So what “The Prowler” is this? It’s a noir, doomed love kinda thing, written, uncredited, by Dalton Trumbo. You can see it here…if you want.

That’s not the most whole-hearted recommendation. So, here’s the scoop: showering Susan is freaked out when she spies a snooper in her neighborhood, and calls the cops. Two patrolmen arrive, and they take her story seriously in the sense that these dames are lonely and just need attention by creating a scenario that requires the police.

One of the officers, Webb, decides to check back on her even later that night. It turns out that the two of them came from the same area in Indiana, and had both moved to LA to make it, only that now she’s married to a successful radio host and he’s got a good job as a cop. He doesn’t seem to think much of either, and puts the move on her. She refuses these advances as much as a 50’s maiden can from these kind of 50’s meet cutes, to the point where I’ve completely lost interest in seeing Webb succeed at anything.

What I mean is: he’s a creep.

Anyway, some of the things we learn in the next few scenes are that Susan is a bit lonely, and that Webb finds everything else about his own life, such as making small talk with his overbearingly friendly partner or anything not related to abusing his power to stalk Susan, mundane and pointless.He snoops around her house and finds life insurance information about Susan’s husband. Susan keeps letting Webb in the home, for reasons I still can’t figure out, and even after she notices Webb looking at private information, she doesn’t kick him out. Instead, they embrace at one point, the screen fades out, which means 50’s implied movie sex.

Susan’s husband starts to suspect something might be up, so Webb shows up in uniform to snoop around Susan’s home, and Susan’s husband confronts Webb with a revolver. He realizes that Webb is a police officer, and doesn’t shoot, and so Webb shoots him. He then fires a shot from the husband’s revolver to nick his arm, and from there we jump to the inquest: both men thought each other to be the mystery prowler, and mistakenly shot each other, with Susan’s husband dying.

Webb then pretends to make amends with the late husband’s relatives before OFFICIALLY putting the moves on Susan, and so no one SUSPECTS A THING WHATSOEVER when Susan & Webb get married a few months later. The two use her late husband’s money to buy a roadside inn. Before they start to get cozy, Susan reveals that she’s several months pregnant. Probably during that one fade out, I guess. It takes a few moments but it suddenly dawns on Webb that there’s no way anyone would accept the timeline of the baby being born as either a product of their matrimonial love, or as a leftover from her last few days with her late husband, especially because late husband’s family knew the guy was sterile.

They both start to freak out before Webb remembered one of his former partner’s boring ramblings about the fun his family had at a ghost town, and so he concocts an even more brilliant scheme: the two of them will disappear to one of these ghost towns, and have the baby there, and then wait a few more months before coming home so that everyone will think I SEE WHERE THIS IS GOING.

So does this plan work? Oh heavens no. Susan gets sick in their hideout, and Webb practically kidnaps a doctor to check on her, most likely with the intent on killing him after. She has the baby, and gives it to the doctor to run off with because she finally comes to the conclusion that Webb will kill the doctor (and who knows, probably the rest of them). Webb freaks out and makes a break for it, and nearly has a head on collision with his former partner, who wanted to check on Webb at Webb’s inn and knew just the right ghost town to follow up on. Webb freaks out and is shot by the local law enforcement. The end.

Is it noir? I saw one review that compared it to a “roles reversed” Double Indemnity, but that’s not a good comparison if that is in a reference to gender. Instead, the role is that the main character is the manipulator (as if we had gotten the POV from Barbara Stanwyck during Indemnity). Though it’s only a matter of when he falls apart, it’s not because he’s a flawed person who knew better; it’s because Webb is an abusive sociopath.

How am I supposed to sympathize with Webb? He went to the same hometown with Susan? Is it established that Susan’s husband HATES people from Indiana, and that’s what drives Webb to rescue her from? He’s bored with being a beat cop? I didn’t like him the minute he snuck back to hit on Susan that first night, practically forcing himself into her home and not getting the hint (she didn’t seem interested), and we had to be with him the rest of the movie.

Then there’s the bright idea of hiding out in a ghost town. This is the sign of a mentally abused woman, people: she goes along with it. They could have given this more thought, like maybe brainstorming sending her alone to some far away place to have the kid? “Dilapidated house missing a wall and part of the roof miles from anywhere” was the first thing discussed for ten seconds, and that’s where they went. And it’s also the first place Webb’s partner decides to check out!

Is there anything good about it? Uh, the desolate location in the last 1/3rd or so of the movie looks great in this film, but that’s about it. If you want to see a film from the POV of a likeable but doomed manipulator with a little more motivation, check out Barbara Stanwick as she sleeps her way to get Sterling Hayden to the top in Crime Of Passion. ALSO, Van Heflin, who plays Webb, stars opposite of Stanwyck in The Strange Loves Of Martha Ivers. Maybe we’ll cover some of those movies soon!

Anything interesting blah blah blah? Heflin was also Philip Marlowe in the detective’s radio drama for a while, though the character was played by several other actors (more famously) in the movies. Dalton Trumbo was a great screenwriter, but he was blacklisted (and went to jail) for his communist association. There’s more to say in condemnation of both his views and how he was treated, so better informed sources can be clicked on from the link above, okay?



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