A holy crap!-jaw-dropping little noir from 1960, Leslie Stevens’ gritty PRIVATE PROPERTY takes up residence on home vid via a stunning Blu-Ray (and DVD) from the gang at Cinelicious Pics.
A visual template defining what inventive indie pictures are all about, PRIVATE PROPERTY chronicles the adventures of Duke and Boots, the Marquis de Sade’s hip-talking version of George and Lennie (Corey Allen, Warren Oates) as they lie, cheat and steal their way across Camelot-era America. Duke is the knowledgeable, possibly even near-genius IQ dude who seems to have a fix on everything. Boots is his lackey, who, admittedly is still a virgin and craves sex – no matter how he (dare I say) comes about it. Duke offers to get it for him (“How do you want her, dead or alive?”), and a suitable victim seems to appear out of nowhere. The woman in question, Ann, a ravishing blonde (the beauteous Kate Manx) in a super car, drives by and immediately piques the two psychopaths’ attention. Threatening a closeted racist (the great Jerome Cowan) to follow the woman/chauffeur them to her dwelling proves to be a too-good-to-be-true situation for Satan’s Hardy Boys. She lives in an upper-middle class suburban community; Roger, her successful money-obsessed husband (Robert Ward) is rarely present, and the classy house next door is up for sale and vacant. So Uday and Qusay “move in” on the crib – and then on the lady. Another perk, Mrs. Moneybags is horny, neglected, preens around the pool in suggestive outfits, tries her best to seduce hubby when he’s around and is rife with enough inferiority complexes to fill the fall issue of Psychology Today.
Using (to quote Grace Kelly’s Lisa Fremont) “rear window ethics,” Duke and Boots spy on Ann with voyeuristic drool, all the while planning their “attack.” The strategic upshot of these maneuvers comprises Duke “innocently” wandering on her property in the guise of a gardener, offering free consultation because the posies are so in need (and by posies, he ain’t referring wholly to the flora). Allen convinces Manx, who allows him entrance (the worst thing you can do to a vampire), and voila! – the game is afoot. While steadfastly loyal to her spouse, the lonely woman can’t deny that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak…and pulsating. Ann’s taboo sex fantasizing erupts in a masturbatory rite wherein the stunning woman slowly rubs a large candle up and down. Soon Duke is diving into her pool, donned only in jeans, and Ann spends the nights in bed caressing his conveniently forgotten leather belt, which she erotically winds around her neck. Boots, meanwhile, stuck in the deserted manse, begins to get jealous, knowing too well that his slick alpha bud has decided to keep the prize in question for himself. Allen viciously responds to his dense pal by tossing some eyebrow-raising gay slurs at Oates that are met with teeth-gnashing anger (but not denial). And when jealously, sexual tension, greed and adultery all bite into forbidden fruit – it’s mushroom cloud time in Levittown. The horrific climax, with spouse Roger finally arriving ahead of the cavalry, figuratively severs the cool head of maniac Duke, who, in fit of violent rage (with Boots surprisingly rational, in a lunatic sort of way), goes all Cody Jarrett on the group while Ann and Rog vigorously defend their respective…private property (real estate-wise and human).
This movie is a pip, a 79-minute powder keg of human emotion, a true rediscovery (obviously, it got little play in 1960 America). Stevens, of course, is best-known for being one of the creators of TV’s Outer Limits, but this former protégé of Orson Welles first gained recognition with his comedy version of PRIVATE’s basic plotline, a theatrical piece entitled The Marriage-Go-Round, which told of a similar tale with the male of the household being the reward package; it was a smash on Broadway (and a lousy movie), making a star of the predatory lead female character, Julie Newmar. Manx, it should be noted, bears a resemblance to Newmar, but in a fragile, vulnerable way (this wasn’t merely acting; the talented thesp took her own life four years later at the age of 34; at the time of PRIVATE PROPERTY, she was Stevens’ wife). Stevens also penned another sex-outside-marriage piece, a terrific medieval play called The Lovers, which ended up as a flawed 1965 movie, The War Lord (all the pagan rite/supernatural stuff was cut out before the release).
The sex in the suburbs plot in post-Peyton Place, USA became a kind of mini-genre. In 1960 alone, two other movies tackled a similar, simmering premise, Richard Quine’s excellent Strangers When We Meet and the arguably sleazy, but engrossing, Mantrap, the second feature directed by Edmond O’Brien (which contained barbecue get-togethers/wife-swapping subplots – to say nothing of Stella Stevens. And one should never say nothing of Stella Stevens!). PRIVATE’s still photographer/visual consultant Alexander Singer himself helmed a verboten-lust epic in 1961, entitled A Cold Wind in August, starring Lola Albright as an available older woman. And then there’s always Look in Any Window (also 1961) allowing demented teen peeping tom Paul Anka, to pant and sweat with wayyyy-too-much realism (thus adding an unnerving layer to the title My Way).
PRIVATE PROPERTY may be the masterpiece of the bunch, if not for the writing and acting then for the photography – spectacular monochrome imagery by the brilliant Ted McCord (Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Johnny Belinda, The Breaking Point); and if that wasn’t enough, the camera operator was Conrad Hall. It don’t get much better, folks.
Indeed, Stevens’ later Outer Limits partner was no less than Joseph Stefano, scriptwriter for 1960’s most successful shocker, Psycho. Aside from the aforementioned Rear Window nod, a wink-wink in-joke surfaces when Duke first approaches Ann (“I’m looking for the Hitchcock residence”).
But let’s talk about the acting. We’ve already briefly discussed Manx, and she’s outstanding, but this is also Corey Allen’s finest moment in front of the camera (he later turned director, mostly in TV); Allen is instantly recognizable to cineastes as Buzz, James Dean’s doomed adversary in Nick Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause. For Oates, it was an auspicious beginning to a magnificent early roll of roles; earlier in ’60 he excelled as Ray Danton’s kid brother in Budd Boetticher’s The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, then, after a slew of memorable TV appearances, it was off to Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country (as one of the degenerate Hammond clan). The rest, as they say, is history.
The Cinelicious Pics Blu-Ray of PRIVATE PROPERTY does Stevens, McCord and Hall justice; it’s amazing looking, perfect, tight widescreen compositions luxuriously displayed with crystal-clarity and immaculate detail (the movie was thought lost until a dupe negative source work was unearthed a couple of years ago by the UCLA Film and Television Archive; Cinelicious then took over and proceeded with this meticulous 4K High Definition scanning and restoration).
If you’re a noir fan, with a penchant for the edgy-bordering-on-kinky, you might want to invite these types (incompatible and impossible variations of “snakes and birds,” to quote Cowan’s smarmy character) onto your private property, safe in the guarantee that they’ll be there for less than an hour and a half.
PRIVATE PROPERTY. Black and white. Widescreen (1.66:1; 1080p High Definition); DTS-HD MA. Cinelicious Pics. CAT # Cinelicious5. SRP: $34.99
Two-disc set also includes High Definition DVD edition.