Sunday 22 January 2017

On DVD (and US TCM) - Ken Wallin tracks down the films of indy Leslie Stevens

Leslie Stevens
Leslie Stevens  was best known as a scriptwriter in the late 50s and 60s with such work as the screenplay for The Left Handed Gun and many episodes of cult television SF series The Outer Limits. He directed a lot of tv and a handful of feature films. Private Property, his first, was a low budget location-shot independent that received some attention back in 1960, has been largely forgotten until the UCLA restoration last year, now out on DVD from Amazon.

Andrew Sarris  in "The American Cinema", did file Stevens and his two films (to that date) under Miscellany. The star of Private Property, Stevens' then wife Kate Manx, found the enterprise too arty and 'less than meets the eye'. Now over 50 years later, Ted McCord's showy camerawork seems less a distraction and the use of locations plus central performances utterly compelling.

The roles of Corey Allen and Warren Oates as a pair of drifters who stalk a rich Beverly Hills housewife, study her movements around her hilltop home and pool from the empty mansion next door in her husband's absence, dominate this film. Allen's plan to seduce Manx then 'give' her to the insecure Oates is disturbingly carried out as he ingratiates himself using his landscape gardening background to win her confidence, and the homoerotic undertones are subtly handled.

Harder to find, although it turns up on US TCM, is Stevens' next feature, Hero's Island (USA, 1962), with the offbeat historical subject of  a small family of settlers clashing with pirates on an island off the Carolinas coast in the late 18th Century. Who could resist a cast led by James Mason and Kate Manx and featuring Rip Torn, Warren Oates Neville Brand and Harry Dean Stanton ?

One of Stevens' later features of interest is Incubus (1966) an odd SF/horror hybrid shot by Conrad Hall. It's really for those keen on these genres, William Shatner fans or anyone who wants to see a film with the dialogue in Esperanto!

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