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.
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.
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:
- The 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival, Intro
- 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival Side Trips
- 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival: Elliott Gould & The Long Goodbye (1973)
- 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival: A House Divided (1931)