Archive for May 25th, 2009

pretty poison posterOn the surface Pretty Poison is a very straightforward film.  Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins) has just go out of an institution where he has been held for many years after causing a fire that killed his aunt.  On release he disappears of the radar of his case worker and befriends, then starts a relationship with Sue Ann Stepanek (Tuesday Weld) with the benefit of a story he has concocted about working for the CIA.  

Pitt has a vivid imagination and plays out elaborate fantasies, comparisons to Billy Liar are obvious if a little stretched.  It is never explored or explained how much of what he says he believes and how much is said for the benefit of others.  Sue Ann is only too happy to get involved with his stories of working for the CIA and his secret mission.  As their relationship develops it becomes less clear who is playing who and what their agenda is. 

pretty poison tuesday weldWeld gives an absolutely towering performance as a character who starts off appearing to be sweet innocent and a little dumb.  As the film goes on we find out she is none of these things.  Pitt is also played to perfection by Perkins.  He was never able to rise above his most famous role, Norman Bates in Psycho.  In pretty poison he plays to that with his character full of nerves and energy and clearly unhinged personality.  That’s what makes the film so interesting.  For all his problems and flaws Pitt is the moral backbone to the story.  He is the character who doesn’t actually want to do anybody any harm. 

Beverly Garland (who at the time the film was made she had been a star of B movies and TV for nearly twenty years) relishes the small but important role as Sue Ann’s mother.  It is a shame she wasn’t used more as her interactions with Weld and Perkins are excellent.  

pretty poison weld and perkinsThe film isn’t perfect.  Although the casting is spot on based on the performances they give the two leads are just a little too old.  Weld was 25 and had already stared in the Cincinnati Kid three years earlier.  Perkins was nearly 11 years older.  Her character was supposed to be 17, although his age isn’t mentioned I took it to be mid twenties at the oldest.  The photography is also nothing special it has an almost television feel to it that lacks dynamism.  It doesn’t play with prospective and angles to unnerve the viewer the way great directors like Hitchcock did in Psycho.  The pacing of the film is very good but the but there sense of time and space is a little askew.  There is one scene where Pitt goes into work and you suddenly realise only a few days have passed when you think it should be longer.  Then the timescale is confirmed in a line of clunky dialogue.  It works the other way earlier in the film a line of dialogue tells us a year has passed, this also comes as a surprise.  

Minor grumbles aside this is an unusual and actually quite disturbing film that isn’t that widely known.  Going back to the Hitchcock reference, he liked to play on peoples fears of what was hiding in the darkness.  In this film Noel Black (a director I know almost nothing about) doesn’t need the shadows the most shocking things are hidden in plain sight and in daylight.  A theme that fans of directors like David Lynch films will appreciate.  A film worth seeing if only for its two stars approaching their best; one who could never escape his most famous role and the other who was never given that perfect part she deserved.

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