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Lower Depths: The Prowler 

UCLA preservation fest revives Joseph Losey’s bottom-dwelling noir shocker

Wednesday, Mar 18 2009
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James Ellroy once called Joseph Losey’s 1951 The Prowler his favorite film. Of course, he’s never shied from such rash statements, or from changing them either. But rogue cop Webb Garwood’s black heart must have struck a chord with the author, with lines like “Of course I did it for $62,000, but I loved you too, you got to grant me that.” Not only will Ellroy be on hand Friday night to present Losey’s film with sidekick (and noir anthologist) Eddie Muller, but we hear he plunked down a sizable chunk of cash to help restore it (he’s on the advisory board of the Film Noir Foundation, which with the Stanford Foundation brought back Losey’s most successful American picture in all its primal, glorious ooze).

Evelyn Keyes is a housewife who spends her evenings alone, with only her DJ husband’s voice (actually the voice of blacklisted scribe Dalton Trumbo!) on the radio for company. Van Heflin, as Garwood, sees an opening and he moves in. Boy, does he move in. The tawdry story is a Double Indemnity that goes further, and was certainly strong meat for 1951, what with an extramarital tryst and pregnancy, as well as killing for lucre. The beauty of it lies in Garwood’s fucked-up mind, as he lies, cajoles and threatens through his schemes — seemingly going along as he goes, but also believing his lies, gabby and deranged as a Jim Thompson character. The 1951 press called The Prowler everything from “an eye-popper” to “a daring sex melodrama,” and Heflin’s cop “lower than a snake’s belly.” Also showing on Friday is Max Nossek’s The Hoodlum, making his third film with slimeball Laurence Tierney following Dillinger (1945). In June 1951, the picture played bottom-billed with The Prowler, prompting the Los Angeles Times to note: “The titles are short and sweet these days. They are the only things about these pictures that are.” (UCLA Film & Television Archive at the Billy Wilder Theater; Fri., March 20, 7:30 p.m. www.cinema.ucla.edu

click to enlarge The Prowler
  • The Prowler

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