The Prowler (Joseph Losey / U.S., 1951):

A half-dressed housewife shrieks and pulls down the shutters after noticing the peeping camera just outside the bathroom, and here we are three years before Rear Window, an entire audience of prowlers. Evelyn Keyes is the rattled heroine, a failed actress restlessly pacing the gilded cage of moneyed Los Angeles suburbia; Van Heflin is the smirking beat flatfoot who invites himself right in, a former athlete with Las Vegas aspirations and barely concealed contempt at having to play public servant. Neither performer ever had more inspired direction than Joseph Losey’s: The nervous dance of invasion, desire and innuendo in their early scenes -- where a married woman’s sex is compared to the gold in a bank’s safe and a bobby pin is used to unlock a cigarette case -- nails the James M. Cain twang better than any of his official Hollywood adaptations. "There are no native Californians," Keyes’s Spanish-style mansion is a colonial mausoleum filled with echoes from her disc-jockey husband, and, as as befits the conjunction of Losey's Brechtian background and Dalton Trumbo's blacklisted subversion, bourgeois respectability is reduced to a disembodied, impotent voice. Heflin takes his time stalking-seducing his prey, a couple of well-placed "accidental" bullets get the husband out of the way. A lie in the courtroom is all it takes to get the illicit couple back into the community, a strand of Von Stroheim is woven into the tapestry as the high-angled camera connects the newlyweds sauntering out of church to the black-shrouded funeral procession on the other side of the street. And so it goes, Losey’s magnificently ruthless dismantling of his characters’ veneers and delusions and self-made traps, all the way to the abandoned Nevada mining town where Heflin and the pregnant Keyes hide in a scabrous nuclear-family parody. "So I’m no good, but I’m no worse than anyone else," cries the desperate antihero at the crossroads of film noir and Cold War paranoia, last seen scrambling to the top of the heap as the desert sands crumble under his feet. Cinematography by Arthur C. Miller. With John Maxwell, Katherine Warren, Emerson Treacy, Madge Blake, Wheaton Chambers, and Robert Osterloh. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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