Set during a Sydney summer in the late 1960s, The Night The Prowler is about a nighttime encounter between frumpy Felicity Bannister (Kerry Walker) and an intruder to the prosperously middle class Bannister home in Centennial Park.The first half of the film mostly occurs in daylight (often in flashback) and follows the perspective of Mrs Bannister (Ruth Cracknell) who despairs of her “perverse daughter”, forever stuck in her chrysalis phase (or, more bluntly, the “lumpish years”). To her mind, if her daughter has been raped, that is no reason to call off a reputable engagement with a respectable young member of the diplomatic service (John Derum).
Partway through, director Jim Sharman and writer Patrick White (his only screenplay) shift the focus to nighttime and Felicity. The Night The Prowler becomes a film about transgressing boundaries - Felicity is rebelling against her “passive” upbringing and the lifestyle of her parents. She forces herself on the intruder and later dresses in black leather to prowl the streets at night, befriending outcasts in Centennial Park and vandalising prosperous homes (a far less conventional leather-clad avenger than in Mad Max, released the same year). She believes in nothing, but is moved by the death of a homeless man she’s barely met - “I knew him as I know myself”. Sharman and White leave us here, suggesting a turning point for Felicity’s development.The contrasting acting styles of Walker (subdued) and Cracknell (theatrical) are perfect for the duality of the script, and both are superb. The Night The Prowler is stylish, intriguing and thought provoking. It was also arguably ahead of its time, and might have fared better amongst the other Australian satirical kitsch comedies of the 1990s. Novelist Dorothy Hewitt makes a cameo appearance as an alcoholic woman befriended by Felicity on one of her nighttime prowls through Centennial Park.