A hit in Europe but condemned at home for its frankness about sexual need, Leslie Stevens' film was widely thought lost until a restoration premiered at last year's TCM Film Festival. Private Property is frank without being explicit, of course, but the fact that no one could mistake what its characters are after no doubt made many people uncomfortable back then. Duke (Corey Allen, the chicken-run loser from Rebel Without a Cause) and Boots (Warren Oates, whose presence no doubt gave this film instant hipness upon its rediscovery) want to "make it" with a girl, Boots apparently for the first time. Though Oates was several years Allen's senior, Boots is the junior partner of the pair, unless Duke's "When I was your age ..." remark is meant as a joke. These guys are drifters and, apparently grifters who come in from off the beach to shake down a gas station for soda pop and cigarettes, hitch a ride and virtually carjack their way at both explicit (Oates) and implicit (Allen) knifepoint to where they want to go. The tone is set when Duke's threat/bluff proves more intimidating than the actual steel in Boots' hand. Duke's most dangerous weapon is his gift of gab. Casing a neighborhood to find an abandoned house, he starts a long-con seduction of the bored, sexually-frustrated housewife Ann (Kate "Mrs. Stevens" Manx), supposedly in order to deliver her to the waiting Boots. Posing as a door-to-door landscaper (a job he probably did hold at some point), Duke seems to respond to the prospect of genuine emotional and sexual conquest as Ann's need becomes apparent. Yet he also feels honor-bound to fulfill his promise to Boots, who proves a very reluctant rapist. Despite that, the thought of Ann submitting to Boots breaks Duke's heart and his mind. He takes his disappointment out on her, leaving a more realistic bruise on her face than you usually saw in movies at that time, and it's Boots who comes to her rescue, or tries to.
The film ends in Lifetime movie territory and the last line's promise of marital reconciliation is truly awful, but otherwise Private Property lives up to its fresh ahead-of-its-time reputation. Corey Allen gradually moved behind the camera to become a busy TV director but might have lasted long in front of the camera had this been more widely seen in the U.S. His future as a character actor as films grew both more frank and more explicit later in the Sixties probably would have been assured. He gives Duke a certain fragile charisma, the fragility of which may have made him only more attractive to Ann, compared to her aloof though well-meaning husband. Boots is early Warren Oates, from when he seemed typed as a sub-normal, and the actor doesn't get to shine as much as Allen does. His two big moments are the quasi-rape scene and the funnier bit when Boots, finally invited to Ann's house, has to play the role assigned him by Duke, an appliance store sales manager, while explaining his unprofessionally scruffy appearance. If anything, Manx, who broke up with Stevens and killed herself in 1964, is all too convincing in Ann's desperation, and I say that having not known the actress's fate until a few minutes ago. It's probably too soon to call Private Property a rediscovered classic, but it's now doubly fascinating as a historic document, both for what the film itself tells us of its time, and for what the time told us of itself by suppressing it.