seems like bad karma to shoot a home invasion-slash-class conscious seduction
thriller in your own home, with your wife starring as the predator’s target,
but as an early independent filmmaker, Leslie Stevens had to make do with the
resources available to him. Sadly, their marriage ended badly, but Stevens
would have quite the interesting career, helming the Esperanto-language horror
film Incubus, creating The Outer Limits, and writing the MST3K-skewered TV movie, Riding with Death, amongst other
projects. Long considered lost, his
indie noir feature directorial debut has been rediscovered and fully restored,
in all its black-and-white hothouse glory. The sun shines bright, but
California is a dark place in Stevens’ Private
which opens this Friday in New York.
and Boots might have been banished from a Steinbeck novel for giving seedy drifters
a bad name. They make no secret of their violent tendencies, shaking down
service station owners for free sodas and traveling salesmen for rides considerably
out of their way. For obvious reasons, they just got it into their heads to
follow Ann Carlyle, so they forced poor Ed Hogate to oblige. As ill fortune
would have it, there happens to be an empty house overlooking the Carlyle
McMansion. From their perch they can watch her swimming in the buff (but not
the audience, because this was 1960).
course, the creepy tramps are not content to watch. Both are sexually attracted
to her (notwithstanding their homoerotic tension), but the more passive Boots
claims Duke “owes” him a woman. The wiry sociopath duly promises to “arrange”
matters for his companion, but he clearly seems interested in her for his own
sake when he approaches her under the guise of a freelance gardener looking for
work. Against her better judgment, Carlyle keeps devising odd jobs for Duke.
Initially, she is motivated by rich liberal guilt, but she is increasingly
tempted by his raw, animalistic sexuality. Of course, the ominous courtship is
likely to end badly, given Duke’s erratic personality.
Property is a seriously strange
film in many respects. Although it is never explicit per se, it addresses
sexual predation in uncomfortable frank terms, even by today’s standards. It is
also one of the few fully realized California noirs. Veteran Hollywood
cinematographer Ted McCord (Treasure of
the Sierra Madre, East of Eden) uses light and reflections rather
stunningly in key scenes. Stevens’ Beverly Hills home and its trappings also
have the perfect look of hip, striving swankiness, circa 1960.
he is best remembered as James Dean’s adversary in Rebel without a Cause, future TV director Corey Allen’s performance
as Duke ranks alongside movie psychopaths like Max Cady in Cape Fear (either one) and Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death. There is something absolutely foul about him, yet he
can turn on the sinister charisma. As Boots, Warren Oates well compliments him
with a different sort of resentful, passive aggressive menace. It is too bad
life did not work out better for Kate Manx, because she is terrific as Carlyle.
It is also a gas to see veteran character actor Jerome Cowan (Miles Archer in The Maltese Falcon and the DA in Miracle on 34th Street) turn
up as the salesman who is strong-armed into following Ms. Carlyle.
Despite the sun and the swimming pool, Property is noir in every way. It is a
shame it fell off the face of the earth for so long, but it is definitely worth
catching up with. Highly recommended for fans of classic film noir and
independent cinema, Private Property opens
this Friday (7/1) in New York, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Labels: California Noir, Leslie Stevens, Warren Oates