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PRIVATE PROPERTY (1960).

Rarely screened for the last several decades, this independently-produced thriller was the feature debut of "Dramatist-Director" Leslie Stevens, creator of such TV-series as THE OUTER LIMITS, SEARCH and GEMINI MAN. And while Hollywood efforts revolving around damaged miscreants usually wimp out, this gloriously overbaked psychodrama remains relentlessly nasty until the very end, while brilliantly pairing two hungry young actors -- Corey Allen (best known as the "chicken racer" from REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, who later segued into directing '70s features like THUNDER AND LIGHTNING and AVALANCHE, as well as numerous television series) and the amazing Warren Oates (who'd later co-star in Stevens' western-series STONEY BURKE, with this project only his third credited feature!). Sure, the film might not seem too extreme nowadays, but it definitely pushed the envelope in the squeaky-clean pre-MPAA-ratings era... With his play The Marriage-Go-Round a hit on Broadway and his script for the Arthur Penn western THE LEFT HANDED GUN to his credit, Stevens decided to save money, ditch soundstages and shoot a majority of the film in his own ranch-style home up in the Hollywood Hills, with a view of the city. Lensed over a two-week period during the summer of 1959, his literary agent, Stanley Colbert, took the reins as producer, with Leslie's actress/wife Kate Manx cast as the lead object of desire (gosh, when has that idea ever gone wrong?)... Although the basic story is fairly simple, its creepiness is in the details. A pair of dodgy drifters, Duke (Allen) and Boots (Oates) are heading to the Sunset Strip when they spot a pretty young blonde behind the wheel of a swanky white Corvette and follow this unsuspecting "twitch" back to her home. Of course, we know these boys are trouble. Duke is unshaven, sports engineer boots, has a generally pissy attitude, and threatens to shove his switchblade "ten inches into your belly, and split you wide open like a dead sheep." Meanwhile, Boots is... well... he's fuckin' Warren Oates, man! Discovering that the house next door to this hottie is empty, the duo break in and spy on her from an upstairs window overlooking her backyard pool, with Duke promising her to smitten Boots (who's never actually 'made it' with a chick). Tired of simply watching her lounge about in a bikini, Duke poses as a gardener looking for work, with frustrated housewife Ann Carlyle (married to a "nowhere" insurance agent who ignores her in the bedroom) soon taken in by his faux charm. But when her hubbie goes out of town for work, the alcohol flows, seduction quickly turns sour, tension builds between this degenerate duo, and Stevens unleashes a truly disturbing climax... Oates expertly plays the type of slow-ish sidekick role that he'd perfect throughout the 1960s; Allen is both repellent and magnetic, going full-blown Method as his damaged deviant flies off the rails; and the two make a compellingly repellant pair. The only weak link here is Manx. In her feature debut, she exudes a naturalistic air but her acting never rises above one-note TV-level, particularly in its second half as Anne's flirtatious dabbling is shattered by harsh reality. Unfortunately, Manx died from a sleeping pill overdose in 1964 at the age of 34, only a few months after her divorce from Stevens. Shot in black-and-white, using a cutting-edge fast film that allowed cinematographer Ted McCord (EAST OF EDEN, THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE) to shoot with limited light and with greater versatility, the film is laced with stunningly composed shots and also provided an early camera operator gig to future three-time Oscar-winner Conrad L. Hall (AMERICAN BEAUTY, COOL HAND LUKE). Ultimately condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency, PRIVATE PROPERTY's objectionable subject matter and sleazy characters made distribution tricky, touted as racy "adults only' fare and occasionally paired with avant-garde arthouse fave THE SAVAGE EYE.

© 2017 by Steven Puchalski.