After the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival ended, I had hoped to do a full post on Private Property (1960), a strange film shown at the festival that I had absolutely zero knowledge of before the event started. I never got around to that, but it was a good thing I waited because it is now available on home video thanks to Cinelicious Pics. The film, written and directed by The Outer Limits creator Leslie Stevens, was considered lost until it was recently rediscovered and restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
Private Property is a film noir, dealing with disillusionment of American life in the 1950s and early 1960s. It starts with Duke (Rebel Without A Cause‘s Corey Allen) and Boots (Warren Oates in his first starring role) wandering onto a gas station. We have no idea where they came from, but they certainly look like two vagabonds. When they see Ann Carlyle (Kate Manx) drive up, they terrorize a businessman and force him to drive them to Ann’s neighborhood. Duke promises Boots that he will somehow convince Ann to have sex with him, so they spy on her from an abandoned house next door.
Even though they learn Ann is a housewife, Duke still goes after her, first for Boots and then for himself. (Although, one might think that Duke never had any interest in letting Boots have her.) This all reaches a boiling point as the tension rises in the final act, when Ann’s husband comes home.
The film is so dreary and down-beat, with an added mix of over-the-top sexual innuendo that it’s easy to understand why the film wasn’t a hit and was forgotten about. Everyone in this movie is disappointed – Duke is disappointed in his own lack of success in life, Ann is disappointed by a husband that ignores her and Boots is disappointed that he can’t just take what he wants without help. They are all jealous of a world that probably doesn’t really exist. It’s a collection of characters that defines film noir.
An air of tragedy hovers over the film, since Kate Manx, Stevens’ wife from 1958 to 1964, committed suicide four years after it was released. The only two movies she ever made were Private Property and Stevens’ Hero’s Island with James Mason. Had this film been more widely seen, she might have been a star, or at least found more roles. She’s magnetic as Ann, balancing the campy aspects of the film with the more serious goals Stevens has in mind. Oates and Allen are also excellent, with great chemistry. One almost wishes they made another movie together.
Cinelicious released Private Property in a Blu-Ray/DVD set on October 25, 2016. The presentation of the stark black and white film is gorgeous and it’s hard to believe that it was lost. The film was shot by Ted McCord, who also shot The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Sound of Music. There are just a few extras.
- Alexander Singer – Unfortunately, there is only one person still alive who worked on the film – Alexander Singer. He was a still photographer on the set. Surprisingly, he has a fair share of insight into the making of the film. The interview runs 18 minutes.
- “Ten Properties of Private Property“ – A leaflet includes this essay by historian Don Malcolm.
It’s really disappointing that there isn’t more information on the restoration. At TCMFF, UCLA’s Scott MacQueen provided an extensive introduction to the film, to explain how a movie from 1960 could get lost and how difficult it was to restore it. Cinelicious should have gone the extra mile to at least include a brief interview with the restoration team. While it’s common for films from the silent era to get lost, the story behind how a film from 1960 was lost would have been interesting to hear.
Private Property isn’t a film you’ll want to rewatch again and again. Despite running just 80 minutes, it does feel a little too long and Stevens’ script can be heavy-handed. But the acting is what saves the film, with all three major players bringing an unprecedented intensity to the project. Stevens was way ahead of his time, and Private Property deserves to be rediscovered.
Thanks to Cinelicious Pics for providing this copy to review! The label’s previous Blu-ray release was Belladonna of Sadness, which I reviewed here.