16 September 2018 | Hey_Sweden
People only pay attention to what they discover for themselves.
"Pretty Poison" is a very interesting, offbeat, darkly comic thriller and a film that remains somewhat under-valued 50 years after its release. Anthony Perkins stars in the kind of role that fit him like a glove: Dennis Pitt, a young man just released from a mental institution. Starting a job at a chemical plant in a small Massachusetts town, he becomes utterly entranced with Sue Ann Stepanek (the memorable Tuesday Weld), a sexy blonde high-schooler and majorette. Given that Dennis is prone to a rich fantasy life, he feeds her a bunch of bull about the spy work that he's doing. She seems to fall for it, hook, line, and sinker, but as things progress, she takes the reigns, making him realize that underneath her wholesome beauty is a psycho that's about to emerge. Then he's just meekly plodding along in her wake.
A good candidate for cult status, "Pretty Poison" marked the filmmaking debut for young Noel Black, who worked mostly in TV and made only a handful of features. He gives the fast-moving, twisty plot very surefooted direction, and gets excellent performances out of his two stars. "Pretty Poison" also has a great feel for small-town America, and the kind of madness that could be boiling beneath the surface. What's appreciated about the tale (scripted by the busy Lorenzo Semple, Jr., based on the novel "She Let Him Continue" by Stephen Geller) is the fact that it's not so predictable. You're fascinated by this character played by the lovely Ms. Weld, and wonder what else she and the filmmakers will do with her.
Perkins may be too old for his role by at least a decade or so, but, much as he did in "Psycho", he does have the ability to earn some sympathy. By the end of the picture, you realize that for all his mental issues, he's not unintelligent. He may have been played for a sap, but he knows it, and he has some advice to pass on to his case worker Azenauer (top character actor John Randolph).
In addition to the great Randolph, other supporting players help to add gravitas: 1950s B movie queen Beverly Garland as Sue Ann's disapproving mother, Dick O'Neill as Dennis' cranky boss, and Clarice Blackburn as the helpful Mrs. Bronson. Ken Kercheval of future 'Dallas' fame has a bit at the end of the story.
But Ms. Weld, despite being a little too old for her role as well, is this pictures' main draw, revealing this not-so-innocent teens' true personality with a vengeance.
All in all, "Pretty Poison" is a striking little film that sinks its hooks into you and doesn't let go for 90 straight minutes.
Eight out of 10.