Friday, January 20, 2017

Private Property (1960) Psychological California Smog Noir

Private Property was long thought lost. It is a lurid psychological noir thriller, based on a sleazy pulp fiction type premise.

It is the first feature written and directed by Leslie Stevens (writer and director of The Outer Limits TV series (1963-1964). The cinematography was by Ted D. McCord (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Flamingo Road (1949), The Damned Don't Cry (1950), The Breaking Point (1950) and, I Died a Thousand Times (1955)). The films music was by Pete Rugolo (whose credits range from Richard Diamond, Private Detective TV Series (1957–1960), to This World, Then the Fireworks (1997)).

The film revolves around two down and out creepy and twisted drifters, hitchhiking their way to The Sunset Strip. The two become sexually obsessed over a hawt "California Girl" blond housewife driving a white corvette who casually stops for directions at a Pacific Coast Highway Veltex filling station near Malibu. (BTW the Veltex Gas is going for 8 cents a gallon in 1960).

Duke and Boots with "The Rock" in the background
At the Veltex Station
Boots (Oates)

Duke (Allen)
One of these losers is a smart sociopath, a sexual predator called Duke, played by Corey Allen (The Night of the Hunter (1955), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), The Shadow on the Window (1957), The Big Caper (1957)). The other is the sexually dysfunctional dimmer bulb Boots, a mama's boy, played by Warren Oates (The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960), The Outer Limits TV Series (1963–1965), In the Heat of the Night (1967), Dillinger (1973), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)).

Ann (Manx)
The blond housewife Ann is played by Kate Manx the then wife of the director. She's sort of a mix of Stella Stevens and Barbara Eden. Another stock film noir veteran Jerome Cowan (The Maltese Falcon (1941), Moontide (1942), Street of Chance (1942), Deadline at Dawn (1946), The Unfaithful (1947), Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948), Scene of the Crime (1949)) plays a schlub salesman Ed who stops for gas at the filling station. Robert Wark plays Roger, Ann's husband and Jules Maitland plays the filling station owner.

Ed arrives in his '54 Buick Skylark

Ed (Cowan)
We first spot Duke and Boots when they are climbing up a small bluff from a foggy beach onto the blacktop.  “The Rock” a distinct road cut into the California Coast Range at the edge of Malibu rises as a hazy backdrop. Waves ominously break against the shore. The two either spent the night sleeping on the beach or where taking a midday dip. They cross the traffic to the Veltex station and bum some pop and cigarettes from the attendant (Maitland).

When Boots tells Duke about a wall calendar he saw in the station with a scantily clad girl wearing just a cowboy hat, Duke asks him if he's getting ready for a woman yet. Boots whines that Duke always steals the girl he wants, the last one being that redhead in the orange grove, so Duke promises to get him a woman, but not after questioning his manhood with the taunt "what are you waiting for a rich sugar daddy?"

An appliance salesman from Sacramento, Ed Hogate, drives up in his '54 Buick Skylark for gas. Boots and Duke begin to wash his windows and pump him for a ride into The City Of Angels. While so engaged with Ed, Ann drives up. Ann is curvaceous and cute. Duke asks Boots if she'll do for a woman. Boots says yes. Duke and Boots convince Ed to not only give them a ride but to tail Ann as she drives towards her home. When Ed wants to end the game and make his turn for Wilshire Blvd., Duke and Boots convince him to keep following the blond. They do this by threatening him with a switchblade that Boots pulls out of his pocket.

Ann's hilltop house and smog
The boys get Ed to drop them off up the street, just after Ann pulls into her driveway. The two next break into the vacant house next door. From a second floor window the two begin to spy on Ann's comings and goings. The two voyeurs peep down on her when she skinny dips in her pool or sunbathes out on her patio.

Duke begins a plan to seduce Ann pretending to be an on the skids landscaper, who lives in his truck while looking for work. He shows up at her door whenever her husband leaves on his various business trips.

Need some landscaping done?

hubby's home

Tie around her neck?  his property

Domestic bliss Rodger (Wark) and Ann
Duke slowly wears Ann's defences down by preying on her sympathies. Working in Duke's favor is the fact that her workaholic husband fails to appreciate her "ribbons and her bows". He shuns her advances, as she tries to get him to pay more attention to her sexual needs. This makes her ripe for plucking. Ann's frustrations in the film are semiotically depicted, at one point while speaking to her husband she strokes a burning (phallic) candlestick, later aroused by Duke she repeats the deed with the round stem of a plant. Other images also repeat, her husband's doffed tie she places around her neck as later she does the same with Dukes's belt. Is she subconsciously signifying that she is property?

Ann stroking the phallic clandlestick

Bedding time

Ann's making "wife noises"

ribbons and bows
here I am.....

rejected and dejected
Dukes plan is to get her hopelessly defenceless, sexually aroused, and liquored up enough to take her next door to empty house drop her on a mattress and let Boots rape her. At 79 min Private Property speeds along quickly down the highway to Noirsville.


Ann stroking the phallic plant stem

Corey Allen's silver tongued devil Duke, is easily convincing as a womanizer, but you don't have to wonder why he never gained traction after this performance, the film opened without Code approval, was condemned by the Legion Of Decency and got slim to none distribution. Warren Oates underplays the malleable simple minded sexual neophyte Boots. Oates specialized most of his career in playing hopeless lowlifes doomed to wallow in eternal misery, always getting the shit end of the stick. Kate Manx excels as Ann with her portrayal ranging from "I Dream Of Jeannie" perky to that of sweet quiet desperation for the attention of her husband. Again one wonders how her career may have went if the film had had a regular release. Four years later she committed suicide, a waste.

So, does the title refer to trophy wife Ann, the house and pool, or the whole gaudy tinseltown world that only the others, the "elites" can inhabit?

Images are digital camera caps of the newly restored Cinelicious Pictures from a TCM premiere. 7/10

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