MAN ON THE PROWL / NIGHT OF EXECUTION (Alpha Video $ 7.98 available directly at http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7721D.html)
MAN ON THE PROWL is a thriller that seems to have come and vanished quickly after it was released on December 1, 1957 . It is a shame as this a superb example of a noir thriller that also predated psycho thrillers like CAPE FEAR (Universal,1962) and THE SADIST (Fairway Int.,1963).
In the 1950s a lot of indie films were picked up and distributed by United Artists. They played as co bills with various features, but a lot of indie producers who made one or two films came and went and often their film vanished with them.
This is a perfect example of that sad reality of film distribution. The movie seemingly vanished and all prints and negatives seemed to have disappeared. The only mention of this film were on IMDB and a few film books.
Man on the Prowl (Alternate Title: Man on a Motorcycle) was directed by Art Napoleon and written by Art Napoleon and Jo Napoleon. Art & Jo Napoleon created TV’s syndicated series “The Whirlybirds” (1957-1960) as well as writing /directing the 1958 Warner Brothers biopic, TOO MUCH TOO SOON , about John Barrymore(Errol Flynn) and his estranged daughter Diana (Dorothy Malone). This film seems to be the only release from their indie production company Jana Films (in cooperation with longtime producer Sol Lesser.
For a low budget film, it boasted cinematography by Nicholas Musuracha (CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, RKO, 1944), and music by Ernest Gold (WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, UA, 1958).
As to the DVD itself, Alpha took their copy from the only print known to be still in existence, it had obviously sat neglected and had been well used .That said we should be grateful for any copy of this at all. Alpha did a bit of a clean-up on the title but a full restoration I am sure was beyond their budget, especially on a film that will have a limited market. The opening titles look to have been recreated by Alpha for the release. The picture quality is soft but acceptable at time there is image waver and scratches but again not enough to distract from the film. Most interesting is that the film is supposedly missing a reel. If so, I didn’t notice any jump in continuity. The IMDB database lists an 86 minute running time, while this print runs just 79 minutes.
The movie has a prevailing sense of menace almost from the very beginning.
Doug Gerhardt ( James Best , later the star of THE KILLER SHREWS , McClendon-Radio Pictures Distributing Company ,1959) brutally murders local girl Dottie (Eugenia Paul, also in THE DISEMBODIED, Allied Artists,1957 )in his car with his bare fists when she refuses to go “all the way “.
The local police have no clues but the report of “a dreamy guy in a flashy convertible “who was seen with her. A lot of the film involving the detectives plays like a police procedural in the Dragnet style. Very matter of fact, very much into the minor details that go into police work.
Meanwhile our killer Doug it seems works as a flunky at a local garage, and that the car he had been in for the killing was “borrowed” from work. He delivers the car to the home of Alma Doran (Peggy Maley, THE INDISTRUCTIBLE MAN, A.A., 1956).
She is sunning herself by her pool and hardly acknowledges his presence except to insult him. Angered, he moves toward her but leaves angrily on his motorcycle when he realizes her maid is also on the grounds.
In his angry haste he nearly runs over a Marlan Wood (Mala Powers, THE UNKNOWN TERROR, Fox, 1957) and her child Jeff (Jeff Freeman, son of the producers). The only damage is to their groceries and he apologizes. She rebukes his apology, and he leaves, but not before pocketing the boy’s yo – yo, which he will use as an excuse later on to gain access to their home.
The Wood household is a bit tense between mother and her husband John (producer Josh Freeman), so when Doug reappears on pretext of returning the boy’s toy, Malan is more open to having him come in. He hints that he went to high school with the absent husband. With that connection, he fixes her washing machine and takes her out to dinner, but when he tries to take it to another level, she stops him. However we have seen that Doug does not take kindly to “no”.
Meanwhile, the police have identified the vehicle in which the girl was murdered as an El Dorado, of which there is only one of that model in the area (Alma’s).
From here on in the film becomes a very tense affair, with Doug threatening both mother and child. There is a strong sense of menace throughout the film with the possibility of rape and murder hanging strongly over the film’s second half.
There is also a precursor of the controlling mother a full two years before the publication of “Psycho” by Robert Bloch (Simon & Schuster, 1959). Doug’s mother (played by Vivi Janiss ) seems to have been partially responsible for the attitude that Doug has toward women. The closest parallels I can think of are the Karswells in the classic CURSE/NIGHT OF THE DEMON (Columbia, 1957).
To fill out the shorter running time, Alpha has added “NIGHT OF EXECUTION “, A September 22, 1955 Climax TV episode starring Vincent Price. The nearly one hour show has Price as a sadistic husband and father whom everyone would like dead and soon he ends up so. Nina Foch costars.
Alpha is to be commended for saving this film, in whatever condition from obscurity and being completely lost forever.
Trivia: This film’s working title was Man on a Motorcycle (copyright 3/12/57 by Jana Films).
. A September 13, 1956 LA Mirror-News article stated that the husband-and-wife team of Art and Jo Napoleon used the exterior and interior of their home at 122 S. Maple Drive, Beverly Hills for several sequences in the film. The article detailed the congestion inside the house and stated that it resembled “a mob scene in a telephone booth.” Additionally, the Napoleons’ two young sons, Josh and Jeff, who are billed as Josh and Jeff Freeman in the onscreen credits, played “Marian’s” sons in the film. Bob Yeakel, a Southern California Cadillac dealer, permitted filming in his showroom and appeared in the picture as himself in exchange for free advertising. Hollywood Reporter news items include Joy Stoner in the cast, but her appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed.
-Kevin G Shinnick
SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE
(Note part of this review is taken from information compiled earlier by the author to announce the film’s release).