Shot in less than ten days in 1959 for not quite $60,000, Private Property was something of an enigma. Writer/Director Leslie Stevens, who would go on to create The Outer Limits, had written a handful television screenplays and one for film over the few years prior to making his feature directorial debut, with what the poster called “The Boldest Story of a Planned Seduction ever to Scald the Screen!” “Planned Seduction” is the polite way of saying “Predatory Stalking and Attempted Rape.” The film had to be released without the MPPDA seal of approval and the Legion of Decency condemned it, forcing the film into distribution outside of the mainstream with no studio backing. But this isn’t a film like Corpse Grinders or Blood Feast, which worked similar circuits. Stevens had set out to make a dark and sexual noir that, unfortunately, was ahead of its time; and while it brought in around $2 million at the box office thanks to an enthusiastic reception in Europe, it soon disappeared and all prints of the film were thought to be lost. Until a few years ago, that is. This Blu-ray release from Cinelicious Pics follows the UCLA Film & Television Archive restoration, with funding from the Packard Humanities Institute. While some of the dialogue is a little prosaic and some of the Freudian symbolism a bit too on-the-nose (sometimes a candle is NOT a candle!!), Private Property is a brilliant neo-noir that touches on thematic elements like class conflict, institutionalized sexism, and barely repressed sexuality. If there was ever a noir that was perfect for a contemporary remake, this is it. The film follows two drifters, a sociopath and his closeted sidekick, Duke (Corey Allen) and Boots (Warren Oates), in what is a textbook study in the psychology of a sexual predator. That would be Duke. Boots is almost childlike in his simplicity (with more than a few subtle nods to Of Mice and Men), putting off “making it” with a woman until marriage or as a promise to his mother, depending on when you ask. In reality, he’s gay and willing to enthusiastically objectify women in order to maintain a safe distance from them while staying close to the man of his dreams. The entire dramatic thrust of the film is that Duke has decided to find a woman for Boots to lose his cherry with, and that woman is chosen almost at random as Ann Carlyle, played by Stevens’ wife Kate Manx, happens to drive by them at a gas station where they’re scamming a ride. Duke fixates on her, and with that, the stalking begins. This isn’t just a story of a violent rapist, though. This is a sexual predator who has already promised women to Boots only to decide at the last minute that he’s raping them himself – which is a large part of the dramatic tension between the two of them. Boots is desperate to prove himself to Duke, despite his own actual preferences. In fact, their relationship mirrors the relationship of Ann and her husband Roger (Robert Ward), who seems oblivious to the clear sexual frustration that she’s feeling every single day of their marriage. That’s where that over-the-top Freudian imagery comes into play, whether it’s Ann rubbing ice on her lips, stroking a candle, or applying perfume with a suggestively-shaped bottle. What makes this film work as a neo-noir is the fact that Ann is not all innocence and light here. She’s clearly a character feeling isolated and alone. Her husband treats her sexual advances as though she was a playful child and then is gone all the time for work. There are no neighbors, as the house next door is empty and the next closest is too far down the hill to be convenient. There’s not enough work around the house to have a maid, and the gardener seems to rarely be around. So when Duke shows up at the door pretending to be a landscaper (à la Without Warning), she’s primed and ready for a little harmless fantasy. When he shows up again, she’s surprised, but intrigued. And when he shows up the third time, she’s ready to welcome him into her garden. Pun intended. Duke and Boots, meanwhile, are treating her like a television show, watching her sunbathe and swim from the abandoned house next door. The enthusiasm of their objectification and threats is off-putting watching the film today. I can only imagine how they played in 1960. For Boots, this is bonding time – before he makes them dinner again – but for Duke, this is the stoking of a fire that he can only barely contain. In true sociopathic form, he lies casually and believably, concocting identities for himself, and eventually for Boots, too, in a heartbeat, repeating phrases he’s heard and playing the role of a beaten-but-not-broken working-class man with dreams of his own business and a bright future. He’s able to spin a web of deceit and inhabit it effortlessly, all as he flirts, preens, and worms his way into Ann’s mind, twisting his own motivations and ultimately becoming violently, murderously, self-righteous. It’s insidious and the most frightening thing about the film. How many Dukes have we all walked right by or shared drinks with? The cinematography by Ted D. McCord (East of Eden, The Sound of Music, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) helps to establish what becomes a classic example of the “male gaze” as Duke and Boots sneak around, watching and leering without Ann’s knowledge, making the viewer complicit and crafting a sense of unease and rising tension. Though this film was essentially a low-budget indie film, it looks fantastic and has more than enough thematic and symbolic layers to become a cult classic (for example, a graduate paper could be written on the use of water symbology, with the drifters seemingly arriving from the ocean in the opening scene to Duke’s diving into the pool against Ann’s wishes, to the final conflict in the pool and at poolside. Cinelicious Pics’ release of Private Property is a little short on extras, featuring only a trailer for the remastered release and a short interview with Still Photographer and Technical Consultant Alex Singer. The interview is a good one, and we get a lot of behind-the-scenes info about the crew and the making of the film, but it never goes too in-depth. An audio commentary by a film historian would have been greatly welcomed on this one. Alas, what can you do? We’re lucky enough to have the film as a whole, much less looking as good as it does. Luckily, there is a fantastic essay included by film historian and noir expert Don Malcolm that provides quite a few details that the Singer interview didn’t, including comments about the shooting location (Stevens’ home), the underwater pool shoot, and the psychology of cult leaders mixing in fascism with their capitalist cultural critiques. All in all, Private Property is a must-own Blu-ray for fans of both the noir genre and obscure indie films. See larger image Private Property (Blu-ray + DVD Combo) Two homicidal drifters (played to creepy perfection by Warren Oates and Corey Allen) wander off the beach and into the seemingly-perfect Los Angeles home of unhappy housewife Kate Manx, in this long-lost California noir written & directed by THE OUTER LIMITS creator Leslie Stevens. Lensed in stunning B&W by master cameraman Ted McCord (THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE), PRIVATE PROPERTY is both an eerie, Jim Thompson-esque thriller and a savage critique of the hollowness of the Playboy-era American Dream. Warren Oates delivers his first screen performance here, years before he emerged in THE WILD BUNCH and TWO-LANE BLACKTOP as one of the finest character actors of his generation; his bizarre Lennie-and-George relationship with the underrated Corey Allen (James Dean’s hot rod rival in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE) is fueled by a barely-suppressed homoerotic tension. Director Stevens (a protégé of Orson Welles) and lead actress Manx were married at the time, and the film was shot in their home; several years later, Manx tragically committed suicide and her fragile spirit seems to hang over the film. New From: $34.99 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.