Saturday, November 5, 2016

Rediscovered (again!) cult classic, Leslie Stevens' PRIVATE PROPERTY hits Blu-ray/DVD

Much is being made of the recent theatrical (and now available on DVD and Blu-ray) release of PRIVATE PROPERTY, the 1960 cult classic written and directed by Leslie Stevens, and starring his then-wife Kate Manx, in her movie debut, alongside two better-known actors Corey Allen (from Rebel Without a Cause) and Warren Oates (who was yet to come into full prominence). Supposedly lost and out of circulation for more than 50 years, the film was seen by TrustMovies when it was first released, and then again when it was re-released, either in theaters or maybe on videotape or DVD, at least decade or more back in time.

I cannot recall exactly how or when this earlier re-discovery happened, but I am certain that it did. (Might it have come from a European DVD brought to us via the now defunct Greencine?) Consequently, I greatly question the claim that this is the first time the film will have been seen in all those many years since its debut.

Mr. Stevens (shown at right), whose credits include even more writing than directing, was onto something -- several somethings, actually -- with this film, the first of these being how empty seems the wealthy lifestyle inhabited by the married couple we see here: he, forever trying to make a further buck, and she, so unsatisfied at his constant inattention and patronization. The movie also offers a look at the haves against the have-nots, some of the most voyeuristic scenes seen in a movie up to this time, as well as an enormous undercurrent of homoeroticism that keeping threatening to bubble over into overt homosexuality.

Into the lives of this "model" twosome comes another twosome, a couple of hunky and somewhat frightening drifter buddies -- Duke (Mr. Allen) and Boots (Mr. Oates), who first threaten a gas station attendant to get some free food and drink and then quietly highjack a car and its driver (very well-played by Jerome Cowan) in order to follow another car and its driver, Ann (the lovely Ms Manx) on whom the guys have designs.

For nearly a full hour of its hour-and-twenty-minute running time, Private Property is a slow burner full of longing and hesitation, as Duke comes on to Ann, supposedly setting her up for a sexual rendez-vous with Boots, but also seeming to want to her for himself. All the while, the two men appear awfully close to each other, with Duke joking about Boots just wanting a sugar daddy (which he may, in fact, have already found in Duke). All of this is handled extremely well by both Stevens and his excellent cast, which includes Robert Ward as Ann's thoughtless, thankless hubby.

Although three-quarters of the film is first-rate, the finale descends into full-blown melodramatic-thriller mode, with all the usual conventions and nonsense the genre often includes. While the ending offers a kind of release from what's been building up, it is hugely second-rate compared to the build-up itself. Still, the 4K restoration look great; the jazz score, very "of its time," is appropriate; and Ms Manx (above and further above) looks simply great in her fashions of the day and also does a creditable acting job. (The actress sadly ended her own life just four years later, after making one other movie and three TV appearances.)

The talented Mr. Allen (above) gave probably his best performance in this film -- sexy, scary, charming and even, at times, vulnerable and hopeful -- while Oates (below and on poster, top), in the smaller role, shows plenty of that understated charisma he would demonstrate in many movies to come. With Ted McCord as cinematographer and Conrad Hall on camera, the movie had plenty of talent behind that camera, as well as in front.

This re-release is yet another gift from Cineliciouspics and, having just completed its theatrical run as of tomorrow (you can click here and scroll down to see where it has played), the movie is available now on DVD and Blu-ray, for purchase and/or rental. There is a terrific extra here, too, in the form of a current-day interview with Alexander Singer, the movie's still photographer and technical consultant, who talks about the filming and what went on personally and professionally at the time. It's all fascinating stuff, as is the film itself.

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