[Film Review] Pretty Poison (1968)

Pretty Poison poster

Title: Pretty Poison
Year: 1968
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Crime, Romance, Comedy
Director: Noel Black
Writer: Lorenzo Semple Jr.
based on the novel by Stephen Geller
Music: Johnny Mandel
Cinematography: David L. Quaid
Anthony Perkins
Tuesday Weld
Beverly Garland
John Randolph
Dick O’Neill
Clarice Blackburn
Ken Kercheval
Rating: 6.2/10

Pretty Poison 1968

A low-budget romance-cum-crime dark comedy from director Noel Black, his debut feature PRETTY POISON was dead on arrival upon its release, but its reputation has been rescued ever since, arguably categorised as a “Neo-noir”, it stars Anthony Perkins, 8 years after PSYCHO (1960), as an apparently self-referential young man Dennis Pitt, who was a teenage arsonist and has been recently released from mental institution on parole and works in a lumber mill, he looks normal, a breezy lad is ready to embrace his freedom. But a forewarning from his parole officer Morton Azenauer (Randolph) “you steps into a tough world where it got no place at all for fantasies” reveals his concerns.

Dennis has a crush on a blond local high-schooler Sue Ann (Weld) and tries to impress her by claiming himself as a secret agent, and it works! A guileless Sue Ann believes him and spurs him to do something exciting together. Smitten with her, Dennis invents a series of missions including sabotaging the chute of the mill where he works, under the fancy of a water-poisoning conspiracy theory. But during their jejune mission, things escalate into murder, and guess who is the perpetrator, it’s Sue Ann, it turns out that she has no conscience of killing at all, she is the real psychopath and from then, the scale has been tipped. Dennis behaves more like a normal person while Sue Ann’s escape plan goes wilder and scarier, there is no way this will end like Oliver Stone’s anti-social affidavit NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994), so the only safe way for Dennis to cut off with her completely, is that he goes back behind the bars and leaves the pretty poison to the next victim and hopes one day, she can get her comeuppance.

The passive, self-preserving ending where vice gets away with murder is shockingly at odds with most Hollywood commodities, but the story itself has a semblance of food for thought. Anthony Perkins credibly juggles levity and seriousness with his unique greenness, he is less neurotic and more sympathetic here. Tuesday Weld, on the other hand, is much too calculated to underline an 18-year-old murderess’ twisted frame of mind, and Beverly Garland is quite memorable as her controlling mother who doesn’t have any inkling about the true nature of her daughter – surprised but not scared, when her doom abruptly arrives, that’s the bloody irony of parenting.

Oscar 1968  Pretty Poison



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