2016 TCM Classic Film Festival: Private Property (1960)


When the TCMFF schedule came out I was just mildly curious about Private Property because of Warren Oates, but this Film Comment article by Farran Smith Nehme was just the thing to convince me to skip Pleasure Cruise (1933) to see this movie. It lived up to that recommendation and turned out to be one of my most memorable experiences at the festival–a visually appealing and terribly disturbing movie way ahead of its time.

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The fascinating intro came courtesy of Scott MacQueen and Dennis Bartok of the UCLA Film & Television Archive and distributor Cinelicious Pics, respectively. They spoke about how this film was considered lost until a print with subtitles was located, combined with other finds and put through the cleanup process. These types of indie films are at the greatest risk of rotting away, they said, and in the rest of their talk covered how the film was denied MPAA approval and how Fox passed on a distribution deal, all due to the controversial subject matter. They spoke about the movie’s beautiful lead actress Kate Manx, at that time the wife of director Leslie Stevens, about their divorce and her tragic death by overdose in 1964.

Then, through this beautifully restored print, we saw just how much sunlight, grit, tension, dread and action could be packed into 5 days of shooting, a $59,000 budget, a 79 minute run time, and a thin plot revolving around just three characters. When I was asked by other festgoers to summarize this movie (“what did you just see” or “what’s your favourite so far” being the most common questions there) I called it a stalkery version of In Cold Blood. I’ve since read reviews that mention Of Mice and Men, and that’s another good way to describe the weird dynamic between Private Property’s predatory male leads, the sociopath Duke (Corey Allen, in a fantastic brooding psycho performance) and his slow buddy Boots (Warren Oates). We meet them wandering off the beach and onto the Pacific Coast Highway where they terrorize a gas station attendant for some free soda. After seeing a pretty blonde, Ann (Kate Manx), they scare a ride out of character actor Jerome Cowan and order him to follow her car. They sneak into the vacant home next door to Ann’s fancy digs, spy on her as she uses her pool, and eventually charm their way in to her company and her home (her hubby’s away on a trip and their marriage is cool anyway), all the while making viewers’ skin crawl with their revolting leering and scheming.

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In some ways Private Property is amusingly tame and innocent. Nudity and sex were only suggested, and the generous use of harmless slang like “what the flop” got laughs from the audience. The joke was on us though, because I’ve rarely felt so disturbed by a movie. The stalking, the creepy fixations, the misogyny of the charmer and the bullying control he has over his apparently gay partner in crime, the gullibility of the bored trophy wife, the comment on empty wealth, possession and objectification, the derangement and potential danger of it all had a huge impact. Stylish, scary and unforgettable.

More from the fest:


17 thoughts on “2016 TCM Classic Film Festival: Private Property (1960)”

    1. Well said! Unsettling as it was, I was glad to see it, because what a great example of low budget film-making, and always fun to see something so ahead of the curve–looks like movies that came decades later.

  1. Anyone who happened to see this one that I talked to rated it as one of the festival highlights. It leaves that much of a lasting impression. Creepy, overtly sexual compared to practically any other film of the era and even kinky. Remember Kate keeping the belt? Everyone kind of chuckled when she went to get it from it’s hiding place. Worth a rewatch.

    1. I gather it will come out on disc eventually so people can share the discomfort we all felt in that theatre. Very impressively made film and memorable part of the fest!

  2. I saw it when it came out. I was a teenager then–it really disturbed movie, and I say that as a compliment because everything in the film is working toward that.

    It’s true that superficially movies have become freer about sex, nudity, language but that is very superficial. They can do anything there now, but it’s rarely challenging, and usually easy on the audience, like pornographic muzak or something. Not like this movie. The truth is that in that time movies went to deeper places.

    I’d have to be in the right mood, but would probably like to see it again. I’m glad that it was found and restored.

    1. Agreed, just like classic horror, the more left to the imagination the better. It worked on me, it was disturbing and deep and well-made (the underwater fight was good)– I won’t forget it!

  3. Anything with Warren Oates in it is something that I want to see. For those of us who were unable to make the Festival is there anywhere else this interesting film can be seen? I can’t find it on DVD in a quick search.

  4. Great write up,although sadly,I’ve never seen
    the film.
    I did however see Leslie Stevens follow up the much
    bigger budgeted HERO’S ISLAND also with Manx and
    Oates. Impressive cast also included James Mason (who
    co-produced) Neville Brand,Rip Torn and Harry Dean Stanton.
    Film made such an impression on me I can even remember
    where I saw it at the time:Gaumont Cinema Notting Hill
    Gate with a re-issue of the Hammer HOUND OF THE
    BASKERVILLES as support-a wonderful double bill!

    1. Someone on twitter recommended Hero’s Island to me as well when I posted this, it sounds good! That is some double feature and impression. I expect after them premiering this good restoration we can look forward to a release, I hope that for a lot of cleaned-up prints we saw at the fest!

  5. I was really glad I saw this particular movie with you and Mike, my “Spider Baby Crew”. I have the feeling many of our classic movie peeps wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as we did. A truly disturbing and fascinating experience. You pretty much sum it all up here: “sunlight, grit, tension, dread and action “

    1. Same here, the psychotronic bunch! I think you’re right, it takes more adventurous sorts to appreciate this but boy was it memorable and a good thing to have among the “safer” classics–an unforgettable discovery and nice restoration. Hope it pops up on TCM or disc sometime soon. Thanks!

  6. The Psychotronic Bunch! I like that. I agree that it would be great to check this out again. It almost felt like it went by too fast.

  7. Kristina,
    It’s great to see so many people taking interest in PRIVATE PROPERTY now that the restoration has occurred. When I first found it in the vaults at UCLA in 2012 and wrote about it in BRIGHT LIGHTS, I knew it was only a question of time before it became a major topic of conversation amongst those seeking out lost “pivot points” in American film.

    But what I like best about your writeup, in marked comparison with most of the others I’ve been reading as the film starts to get shown commercially (and, BTW, a fall DVD release) is your appreciation for the work of Corey Allen as Duke. It’s a shame that his work was lost for 50+ years, as its availability at the time might have made a difference in his career trajectory. As it is, the film’s rerelease is already falling victim to how film history has been written, focusing on a lost performance from Warren Oates and showcasing the film from that lens, when it is, of course, so much more–and an opportunity to posthumously honor Allen for his fearlessness in playing such a role–one that announced the existence of a new type of seductive psychopath. Perhaps after the film has been “sold” via Oates’ lingering star power (and he’s very good here, of course) people will shift their focus and give Corey Allen his due…at least, I hope so.

    All best, Don Malcolm

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and add your thoughts. As you noticed, I was very impressed by Allen and like you I hope and expect that if Warren Oates is the hook, great, then people will see everything else that’s cool, shocking and groundbreaking about this movie. What many might have considered an offbeat choice for this festival turned out to be such a memorable experience, a lesson in the power of low budget indie films and an example of the fine work in bringing these back for us to see. Excellent to hear about the dvd release, thanks for that info!


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