The Prowler (1951 film)

The Prowler is a 1951 American film noir thriller film directed by Joseph Losey that stars Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes.[1] The film was produced by Sam Spiegel (as S.P. Eagle) and was written by Dalton Trumbo.[2] Because Trumbo was blacklisted at the time, the screenplay was credited to his friend, screenwriter Hugo Butler, as a front.[3]

The Prowler
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoseph Losey
Produced bySam Spiegel
Screenplay byDalton Trumbo (uncredited)
Hugo Butler (a front for Trumbo)
Story byRobert Thoeren
Hans Wilhelm
StarringVan Heflin
Evelyn Keyes
Music byLyn Murray
CinematographyArthur C. Miller
Edited byPaul Weatherwax
Horizon Pictures
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • May 25, 1951 (1951-05-25) (United States)
Running time
92 minutes
CountryUnited States


Webb Garwood (Van Heflin), a disgruntled cop, is called to investigate a voyeur by Susan Gilvray (Evelyn Keyes). Her husband works nights as an overnight radio personality. Webb falls in love with the young and attractive married woman.

Obsessed, he woos her and, despite her initial reluctance, the two begin an adulterous affair. Webb finds out about an insurance policy on the husband's life. He dreams up a scheme; one evening, he goes to Susan's house and makes noise outside which would indicate a prowler. He then leaves but, because he is in his police vehicle, hears the subsequent complaint reported from Susan's address. Webb returns to the house, in his official capacity, but first again creates noise suggesting a prowler. Susan's husband comes outside and Webb, under cover in the bushes, shoots and kills him. He then wounds himself to make it look like the two had exchanged gunfire.

Webb's ruse fools a coroner's jury, thanks in part to both Susan and Webb testifying that they didn't know each other prior to her husband's death. Susan initially suspects Webb of foul play, but becomes convinced of his innocence and subsequently marries him.

Shortly after the wedding, Susan informs Webb that she has been pregnant for four months. This is problematic because the date of the child's conception would prove the two had lied in their testimony to cover up their previous relationship and would thus suggest that Webb's killing of Susan's husband had not been an accident. The two run away to a ghost town named Calico to have the baby without anyone back home knowing. They enjoy a happy life until Susan goes into premature labor. Webb finds and forces Dr. William James (Wheaton Chambers) to come out to Calico to help. Susan realizes that Webb intends to kill Dr. James to preserve their secret, so she warns the doctor, who then escapes with the newborn.

Susan tells Webb that she knows what he had planned to do and that she now realizes that he intentionally murdered her husband. Realizing the doctor will send the police after him, Webb drives away, leaving his wife in Calico alone. On the way out of town, he finds the road blocked by his former partner on the police force who is coming to pay a visit. While attempting to get around his friend's car, Webb sees several police cars coming so he heads for the hills on foot. He refuses to stop and a sheriff's deputy shoots him dead.



Critical response

Critical reception for the film has been mostly positive.[4]

In a contemporary review, The New York Times noted "an impressive drama."[5]

Film critic Dennis Schwartz liked the film, writing, "A neat noir thriller that has a slight variation on the Double Indemnity theme, this time it is the guy who is the seducer. This is a Joseph Losey American film, made before his self-exile from the 1950s HUAC witch hunt days when he fled to England. It is the director's aim to highlight social issues and class differences. They will play a major role in the motif, adding to the usual noir ones of dark character and sexual misconduct. Dalton Trumbo, the blacklisted writer, is the uncredited cowriter of the script."[6]

Leonard Maltin awarded the film 3 out of a possible 4 stars, praising its camerawork and production design and calling the film "Unusually nasty and utterly unpredictable".[7]


  1. "The Prowler (1951) - Joseph Losey - Review - AllMovie". AllMovie.
  2. "The Prowler (1950)".
  3. Arnold, Jeremy. "The Prowler: Home Video Review". TCM. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 18 May 2017.
  4. "The Prowler (Cost of Living )".
  5. "Unusual Drama Opens at Criterion".
  6. Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, February 2, 2000. Accessed: July 8, 2013.
  7. Jonathan Harchick (28 October 2013). Leonard Maltin's 2014 Movie Guide: Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide. Createspace Independent Pub. ISBN 978-1-4936-2083-8.
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