Fox // 1968 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // October 9th, 2006
Illusions can be deadly.
Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins, Psycho) has been released from a mental institution because he burned down his aunt's house when he was 15. He's trying to live life on the straight and narrow in a small Massachusetts down, but his personal demons won't let him go. He still has delusions and fantasies about being a secret operative of the CIA. He enlists the help of a beautiful high-school senior named Sue Ann (Tuesday Weld, The Cincinnati Kid) to play along with his pretend mission. The problem is Sue Ann may be the all-American girl on the surface, but she's hiding some dark secrets that even a convicted arsonist is going to have problems dealing with.
If you were looking for an actor to play crazy, Tony Perkins was the "go-to" guy in Hollywood. He did so well playing a murderer with mother issues for Hitchcock that he became a stereotype and could never escape playing insane for pay. In Pretty Poison his psychotic persona works well, but he is a lot more lovable and even sort of sexy in the white and nerdy way. He's sympathetically disturbed or merely slightly touched. His CIA fantasies are pretty harmless for a while, but then the bottom drops out when crazy meets crazy in the character played by Tuesday Weld. Weld thought this was her "worst performance," but that was only because she was fighting with the director (Noel Black, who ended up directing for Kojak and The Hardy Boys/ Nancy Drew Mysteries). Truth is she does a bravura job that rivals anything Juliette Lewis took on in Natural Born Killers. Together Perkins and Weld make a picture-perfect disturbed minor take on Bonnie and Clyde.
The movie debuted in 1968, winning accolades for its script and acting. Pretty Poison remains a compelling oddity, an offbeat drama that hearkens back to the '50s more than the late '60s. It plays out as if you took a Day-Glo Technicolor fantasy and married it to the jaded cynicism of the era. The film was never a mainstream hit, but it did garner a sizable cult following. If you're wondering about the history of violence and sexy on-screen couples, here's a very important chapter. Weld and Perkins have a quirky chemistry, and they make this edgy film sing with promise of innocent danger. White-bread Middle America never seemed quite as dangerous as it does here. There are a couple of scenes with Weld that will burn your retinas because they are visual poetry of horror and sweetness served simultaneously. Pretty Poison is well worth a look because it is a darkly disturbing tale that wields its own brand of insane erotic crime.
This is the second time Pretty Poison has made it to DVD, but for strange reasons Fox releases it bare-bones. The transfer is wonderfully done, with colors and black levels making it look more recent than a 40-year-old movie, but the sole extra is a spoiler-ridden trailer that reveals every shock in the film (save it for after a viewing). Distributor Second Sight previously provided a director's commentary as well as deleted scenes for a Region Two release, but this Fox edition has none of that. The movie stands up on its own well, but I missed the chance to hear some explanations.
Pretty Poison is a welcome addition to any DVD collection, but I wish Fox had the good sense to provide extras. The transfer and stereo sound mix are both well executed, but the film begs to be explained and explored further. Pity this distribution region gets the shaft, while Region Two viewers (United Kingdom and Europe) get more to chew on. Still, this is a title worth tracking down. For some reason all I could do is sing that Gnarls Barkley "Crazy" ditty to myself for hours after seeing this one. Pretty and insane never looked quite as good as when Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins make out under a crazy moon on non-disclosed prescription drugs. It's the American Dream -- a hot summer night, a convertible, prescribed pills, and planning a crime right after you have sex in the grass. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Original Theatrical Trailer