Pretty Poison (Noel Black, 1968)
“The world has no place for fantasies,” learns parolee Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins) after he meets apple-pie sweet Sue Ann Stepanek (Tuesday Weld). He first spies her bearing the flag in her high school marching band as they run through a John Philip Sousa piece in the park. Dennis’s grasp on reality isn’t as tight as it should be. Later, as he inspects bottles pass him by on an assembly line, he sees them as miniature marchers in a beautiful parade. The bottles of chemicals may look pretty but they’re deadly; just like Sue Ann.
Dennis approaches her pretending to be a CIA operative, and the idea of something out of the norm in her quaint town turns her on. A plan is hatched to sabotage the chemical plant where Dennis has been working “as cover.” When a night watchman gets in the way, Sue Ann takes care of him with a few “bops” to the side of the head. “He sure is bleeding,” she says. Dennis watches in horror as she rolls the body into the river where the chemical runoff swirls with the fresh water.
Sex and death are intertwined in Noel Black’s film just as the lovely red runoff mixes with the fresh water of Sue Ann’s small town. Pretty Poison is technically beautiful with its color palette and match cuts as well as being a compelling film. The characters are engaging, and Weld is particularly terrific as the enigmatic Sue Ann. No slouch himself, Perkins turns in a stand out performance as Dennis. Between his roles in Pretty Poison and Psycho six years earlier, Perkins would find himself typecast as a loon.
Never officially released on VHS, Pretty Poison finally found a DVD release in late 2006. — Mike White
[tags]Pretty Poison, Noel Black, Anthony Perkins, Tuesday Weld[/tags]