Warren Oates wasn’t your prototypical leading man. He had an everyman quality to his onscreen persona, one that could alternate between affability and pure menace. Despite his untimely death in 1982, Oates has endured as an icon of cult cinema with his famous roles in the films of Sam Peckinpah and a colorful role in Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop. Before he was an offbeat leading man in some classics of cult cinema, Oates had to cut his teeth in a number of minor roles in television and forgettable movies. One of his first leading roles came in 1960’s Private Property, a pitch-black crime drama from writer-director Leslie Stevens. Now Private Property is the subject of a brand new restoration from the good people over at Cinelicious Pics that allows this forgotten piece of ‘60s noir to be rediscovered by a whole new audience.
Private Property opens with Duke (Corey Allen) and Boots (Oates) emerging from a beach not far from Los Angeles. After intimidating a local gas station owner, the two hitch a ride into town with a salesman. Before they hit the road, Duke and Boots convince their salesman driver to follow a blonde in a Corvette, brandishing a knife when the driver wishes to drop them off and end their chase. The two delinquents soon set up quarters in an abandoned house next to the blonde woman’s home in the hills above Hollywood. Duke is the much more volatile of the two, and constantly razzes Boots for the fact that he’s never been with a woman sexually. Their insidious intent is horrifically simple: Boots will lose his virginity to this woman by one means or another. Snooping around, Duke quickly learns that the woman is Ann Carlyle (Kate Manx) and she’s married to Roger (Robert Ward). Taking up an alias, Duke goes to her front door and claims to be a gardener willing to work for cheap. At first, Ann has little use for Duke’s offer, but soon relents much to her own detriment. It doesn’t take long for Duke to become more and more imposing on the life of this simple housewife. She may not know his twisted motives, but we certainly do.
The looming threat of sexual violence is the greatest source of tension in Private Property. However, it does take most of the film’s 80-minute runtime to even approach the promise of its threat. When it does, the budgetary limitations of the film are obvious as sometimes moments of violence and action are constructed through quick cuts of a bewildering sequence of shots that it’s up to the audience to assume what has happened.
Even with those shortcomings, director Leslie Stevens still is able to sneak in a few truly impressive shot compositions, like one featuring Duke and Ann framed within a glass of booze as they slowly dance towards the violent climax. Stevens is probably best known for directing Incubus, the first and only film to be made entirely in Esperanto which starred William Shatner. There’s enough good in Private Property to see why Stevens was able to work as a director in television and movies throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, and enough faults to see why he never really had a breakout hit.
Private Property isn’t a lost masterpiece, it’s simply a pretty good B-movie featuring an early performance from an iconic actor. The film tackles some risqué material for its era, even though it doesn’t always completely follow through.
Private Property is now available on Blu-ray from Cinelicious Pics. You can order it at Amazon and other retailers.
- Overall Score
A restored noir starring the iconic Warren Oates, Private Property draws suspense from the threat of sexual violence, though it takes quite a while for the tension to fully escalate.