BILL’s BIZARRE BIJOU
William D. Carl
This week’s feature presentation:
PRIVATE PROPERTY (1960)
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if there’s a multitude of drag queens and camp sensibility, if go-go dancers in cages are featured, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.
When people mention the name Leslie Stevens, most people think of his classic TV show, THE OUTER LIMITS (1963-1935). or his bizarre Esperanto epic INCUBUS (1966). He started as a theater playwright and director, and he had several hits, especially a sex comedy called THE MARRIAGE-GO-ROUND, which became a big Hollywood movie. Stevens was interested in lower budget/higher concept films, so he formed an alliance with producer Stanley Colbert and Stevens’s new wife, singer and actress Kate Manx. Their first movie, filmed in ten days in Stevens’s and Manx’s house and the empty house next door, was a scary psycho-sexual drama called PRIVATE PROPERTY (1960). It was deemed too adult to get a seal from the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors, so it could only be viewed in independent art-house theaters. It lasted a few weeks, although it did quite well in Europe. However, for some reason the film was never really shown in America, even after the ratings system had been instigated. It was a lost film until recently, when a new copy was found and restored and released on a miraculous Blu-ray. Now, anyone can view it. But is it any good?
The film begins with two psychotic drifters walking up from a beach where they rest at a gas station. Duke (Corey Allen of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, 1955 and PARTY GIRL, 1958) is handsome, smart, and a ladies’ man, whose eyes show a maturity well beyond his years and a violent madness approaching Norman Bates territory. Boots (the great Warren Oates in his first large role, who would later star in THE WILD BUNCH, 1969, BADLANDS, 1973, and TWO-LANE BLACKTOP, 1971) is the virginal, animalistic one who may have homosexual yearnings for his friend. Duke decides it is time for Boots to have a woman (or a “twitch” as he calls them), and they spot the beautiful Ann Carlyle (Kate Manx) in her little white Corvette. Ann is married to her childhood sweetheart, and he is a good man, but she is sexually frustrated . . . just watch how she fondles that candle at the dinner table or how she lounges seductively by the fireplace.
The two men follow Ann back to her place, and they strike it lucky. The house next door, with a great poolside view of Ann’s home, is empty and for sale. They begin watching her as she swims, as she makes herself attractive for her husband. Eventually, Duke finagles his way into her lawn, pretending to be a landscaper. He takes off his shirt, takes a swim, and begins his seduction/stalking. Watching Duke all the while from next door is Boots, who appears terrified of what he is going to have to eventually do. Ann, lonely and yearning for some excitement, takes the bait and flirts back. It’s all a bit more than creepy and unnerving, but you could cut the sexual tension with a dull knife!
Soon, Mr. Carlyle has to go out of town for business, and Duke decides this is the time to get his buddy laid. The plans for Mrs. Carlyle’s rape are initiated, and the alcohol and double entendres come out. Yet, Duke is beginning to have feelings for this woman, and Boots is growing more and more vulpine as the night falls.
Will Ann get raped? Will Duke’s new feelings spare her? Or will her husband return in time? Things get very, very intense and icky before the violent underwater climax. You may want a shower yourself after watching this one.
PRIVATE PROPERTY plays like a precursor to home invasion films or the psycho-sexual movies like WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR (1965, and required viewing) or WINDOWS (1980). Leslie Stevens’ script was far ahead of its time, and he got lucky in several other ways.
First, the cinematography is exceedingly good for a small film like this one, which is no surprise when you learn that it was lensed by Ted D. McCord (THE SOUND OF MUSIC, 1965, THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, 1948, EAST OF EDEN, 1955, and FLAMINGO ROAD, 1949). He won three Oscars for his work! He was aided by camera operator Conrad L. Hall, who later became one of the world’s great cinematographers, filming such classics as COOL HAND LUKE (1967), BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969), BLACK WIDOW (1987), and AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999). PRIVATE PROPERTY looks truly awesome, filmed in glorious black and white, with more than one nod to its noir atmosphere. You can feel the heat and see every drop of sweat or pool water on everyone’s faces. Check out the scene where Duke is dancing with Ann, getting her drunker and more susceptible to suggestions, and they slowly dance until they are framed by a highball glass in the foreground, showing how she is getting drunker without any dialogue. Wow.
The next miracle of this low-budget gem is that stellar cast! Kate Manx is beautiful and appears very fragile and vulnerable. You can see the yearning she has for passion in her life, how empty her marriage has become, and how she wishes she could change things. She could have been a big actress, but she committed suicide after Leslie Stevens left her and she had a fight with her new boyfriend. Warren Oates is very young in this one, but he is amazing as usual. He’s a very physical actor, every motion is purposeful, and he inhabits Boots like a more charming, sexually confused Lenny to Duke’s George. He is like a lost puppy, never knowing what to say or do, which only enforces the idea that he actually may be in love with his friend. Best of all is Corey Allen, who is so charming and conniving that anyone would fall for him in a few days. When he finally has a psychotic break, he is utterly terrifying, as he is in all the scenes where he stalks the poor woman next door. Allen is brilliant in this role. If this film were made today, Corey Allen would be a cinch to get an Oscar nomination. In a way, it is too bad he didn’t do a lot more acting, but he seems to have had a prolific career directing TV shows and TV movies, including the classic CRY RAPE (1973).
PRIVATE PROPERTY refers to several things—the house owned by the Carlyles, the empty house next door; how Ann is treated by her husband; and the way men in general think of women in the late 1950s. It is a dark movie that’s scary as hell, but there was something on Stevens’ mind other than terrifying his audience. This isn’t a perfect film—the music can be weirdly Beach Party-esque in moments—that bad 1060s film music that everyone used—and the final line of the film is groan-inducing, but man, oh man, the ride is rather terrific!
I give PRIVATE PROPERY, especially on the restored Blu-ray, three and a half bloody swimming pools out of four.
© Copyright 2017 by William D. Carl
(GO HERE for L.L. Soares’ review of this movie)