By Glenn Kenny
June 30, 2016
This 1960 picture, long considered lost, and newly restored courtesy of the bold indie distributor Cinelicious Pics, is a sex-crime thriller that teeters on the edge of morbidity before its galvanic climax. Seen today, it’s also a fascinating mélange of cinematic semiotics.
Written and directed by Leslie Stevens (best known for his contributions to the TV series “The Outer Limits”), “Private Property” features the sleazoid dirtbags Duke and Boots hijacking their way into an upscale section of Los Angeles, the better to secure a rape victim Duke can give to the sexually inexperienced Boots. The duo break into an unoccupied house next door to the home of an attractive, neglected housewife, Ann. How neglected? When Ann tells her insurance-salesman husband, “I’m ready for bed,” he says, “Wife noises” to the colleague with whom he’s on the phone.
Duke is played by Corey Allen, a few years after he hassled James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause”; Boots is Warren Oates, a few years before establishing himself as one of the greatest character actors of the “new Hollywood.” Kate Manx, Mr. Stevens’s wife at the time, plays the porcelain beauty Ann; her expertise at portraying vulnerability is made more poignant by the knowledge that she took her own life in 1964. Mr. Oates underplays what could have been a schematic “Of Mice and Men”-derived dynamic, while Mr. Allen’s work as an overconfident sociopath is consistently insightful enough to make you regret that he didn’t get more roles this meaty during his career.
This tense and upsetting film has more psychological depth and empathy than the comparable sensationalist fare of its time, and shudder-inducing cinematic style to spare. “Private Property” qualifies as a genuine rediscovery.