The Cinematography by Arthur C. Miller (How Green Was My Valley 1941, The Song of Bernadette 1943) creates both a landscape of alienation within the city and continues to spread even in the wide open spaces. Miller understands how to frame his visual lens in the same way George E. Diskant, Nicholas Musuraca, and Conrad L. Hall do. By taking the internal machinations of the players, the subtexts (usually themes of alienation) and either the pervasive or subtle moralizing, are transposed onto the landscape as either closed-in space or vastly wide open in contrast.
Evelyn Keyes (Johnny O’Clock 1947, The Killer Who Stalked New York 1950, Iron Man 1951, Hells Half Acre 1954) who has a natural gutsy sex appeal plays a repressed suburban California housewife Susan Gilvray married to the older William (Emerson Treacy)who works nights as a late-night radio host.
One night she sees a prowler outside her house and calls the police to come Webb Garwood ( Van Heflin) and his partner Bud Crocker (John Maxwell) show up to investigate but don’t find anyone lurking around. There’s something seedy and intrusive about Webb who shows up a second time Susan is more like a shut in and so she invites Webb in for a cup of coffee.
Of course, Webb makes a play for Susan as he had already set his sights on her during the initial call. The two wind up having an affair, until her husband John gets a clue that something’s going on. Susan ends it with Webb and he quits the police force.
Webb concocts a plan to murder William making it look like he is accidentally shot dead during what would be thought to be another prowler incident. At the inquest, John’s death is ruled an accident.
Van Heflin plays a perfectly tightly wound psychopath who swarms and suffocates Evelyn Keye’s character Susan until she is trapped by his frightening obsessiveness with control and greed. The climax is quite intense as the pacing leaves you gasping for air a bit in that classic Losey bleak and nihilistic view of human nature that is his style.
- IMDb trivia—Novelist James Ellroy (“L.A. Confidential”, “The Black Dahlia”) once called this his favorite film and described it as “a masterpiece of sexual creepiness, institutional corruption, and suffocating, ugly passion.”
Webb Garwood: “I didn’t do it, Susan. I’ll swear that by the only thing I ever really loved and that’s you.”