Private Property

| October 11, 2016

Film-noir is traditionally known for presenting society’s underworld in dark alleys with black hats and Tommy guns. By the 1950s, however, the focus shifted from mobsters to the socially disaffected and alienated drifters. Released in 1960, director Leslie Steven’s Private Property highlights the reason for this change and why, subsequently, society faced the rise of 1960’s ‘counter-culture’.

Duke and Boots are drifters at a gas station outside of Los Angeles. The two sucker a car ride into the city by convincing the driver to follow a beautiful woman named Ann. Duke and Boots eventually end up breaking into the neighboring house of Ann to spy on her. Duke promises to seduce Ann for Boots in to atone for a past affair gone wrong. Except, for all three involved, seduction turns out to be difficult to control.

Most noticeable in Private Property is the contrasting worlds. It is mentioned explicitly in the dialogue as well as in daring presentation for the period. The sordid ambitions of Duke and Boots directly conflict with Ann and her husband Roger’s idyllic home life. Yet true to film-noir, both set of characters are uncomfortable in their reality. For Duke and Boots, it is primal nature against organized society of the American 1950’s — a conflict that would dramatically ascend in the forthcoming decade. On the other side, Ann’s sterile home life suggests, through subtly BDSM actions, a craving for taboo. The crux of Private Property relies on contradiction of these lifestyles.

To further achieve this technique, Leslie Stevens employs a wonderful quartet of actors. Corey Allen as Boots and Kate Manx as Ann Carlyle act with calculating seduction, emphasized with intentional scenes of sun bathing and intensely close conversation. Warren Oates stumbles along as a supporting character with the bumbling brash he became known for. Though with much less screen time, Robert Ward as Roger Carlyle emulates perfectly the stereotypical husband of the period. These four oscillate with power and pleasure around the Carlyle homestead, causing the audience to blush, cringe and chuckle.

What separates Private Property from other efforts of the age is the utilization of motif. The concentrated setting of the Carlyle’s house allows even the minuscule to become important. Everything that Boots and Duke touch carries meaning, including Mrs. Carlyle. Rather than pursue with subtly, Leslie Stevens emphasizes objects. The result is an acknowledgement of the thawing censorship of Hollywood films, especially in regards to sex, that would intensify in years to come.

Private Property is a calculating film noir will anticipate films like Easy Rider as well as be influenced by earlier ‘societally-alienated’ efforts like Thieve’s Highway. The entertaining conflict of cultures, old versus new, is lucidly presented and will not disappoint.

A 3,000  copy limited release of the 4K Digital Restoration of Private Property is now available on Blu-Ray & DVD from Cinelicious Pics.

About the Author:

Daniel currently resides in New York City working as a freelance writer and director. He is a graduate of the Film and Video department of Columbia College, specializing in Italian Neo-realism and French & British New Wave cinema.
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