Pretty Poison Is Pretty Fabulous At Film Forum

Categories: Film

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In 1968, a year after Bonnie and Clyde caused a sensation, the way more obscure Pretty Poison trotted out just as bizarre a criminal couple consisting of a weird guy with a sick imagination and a stunning blonde who eagerly bites his bait.

But this time, the Bonnie isn't necessarily working in tandem with her Clyde.

Let me give you some background.

Anthony Perkins plays a twisted but basically sympathetic guy who -- just like Norman Bates -- was permanently damaged by a female family member's overpossessiveness.

Perkins' aunt beat him when he "played doctor" with a girl, causing him to ignite Auntie's house and retreat into a world of paranoid, self-serving fantasies.

When the movie starts, the ex-"juvenile arsonist" gets unleashed back onto New England Americana, where he immediately finds an audience for his line of bull.

He entices bored young cheerleader Madonna -- I mean Tuesday Weld -- into the exciting fiction that he's a CIA agent trying to protect the water system from an alien organization's poison.

But the constantly craving teen has even more dangerous thoughts in her mind, and they have to do with her patronizing mother (B-movie star Beverly Garland, smoking and barking epithets so persuasively you assume she's the monster).

The plot this pretty poisonous cookie cooks up and the way she pulls it off provides a lot of the neo-noirish highs of this movie -- directed by Noel Black -- holding a mirror to the dark side of American gloss and banality, where evil lurks behind every pom-pom.

At the time, the studio dumped the film as if it were poison, but enthusiastic reviews helped it get some attention as well as a New York Film Critics Award for Best Screenplay.

And the acting is extraordinary, too.

The tart little gem plays through tomorrow at Film Forum.

See it, or I'll turn on you.


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Southern Dave
Southern Dave

Good question, Voxpop.

As late afternoon fades into night in "Rope," Hitchcock's famous drawing of his profile is seen, far right, out of the living room window. It's a flashing neon sign advertising a fictional product called "Reduco." "Reduco" had been used before by the director, in an ad in a newspaper William Bendix reads in "Lifeboat."

Hitchcock was always winking at the audience.In fact, the final shot on his final film, "Family Plot," is of Barbara Harris sitting on a staircase winking at us. After all, we were accomplices in all his films.

Voxpop
Voxpop

thanx SD only now isle have to see it a 3rd time...lol

Voxpop
Voxpop

since ROPE was mentioned frequently..can anyone tell me where in the film hitchcock appeared? i've watched it twice and never spotted him. i remember the slogan "see alfred hitchcock's ROPE" which of course was changed to watch "watch alfred hitchrope's cock"..but uh not by the studio of course...

Southern Dave
Southern Dave

Tuesday Weld is a phenomenal actress and has been since "Dobie Gillis" days. I thought she'd be the next Monroe, but she was smarter than poor Marilyn. All three of the stars of this film -- Weld, Perkins and Beverly Garland -- deliver knockout performances. I bought the DVD.

I also love the film's original title: "She Let Him Continue."

It was made not long after some real-life boy-girl shooting sprees.

Wonder why we don't have any gay serial killer couples? "Ronnie & Clyde"? Guess they'd be arguing over what kind of gun to buy, car to drive, what to wear to court (John Waters says that's very important and he's right.)

Sharon_taint
Sharon_taint

Heavenly Creatures.  But I guess serial means several, and they only killed one.

Musto
Musto

Well, there was Leopold and Loeb in Hitchcock's Rope, though of course that was mainly subtext. And let's not forget "Swoon."

Ynnocence
Ynnocence

My gay circle warned me about a movie called Frisk, which I promptly watched precisely because I was told not to. I thought it was OK in a humorous, anti-PC way - but they retorted: A gay serial killer? How would that be possible? A year later Andrew Cunanan came along....

Ynnocence
Ynnocence

Sorry to answer my own post (but if it's good for the Musto...). We knew about Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy but the Frisk character was an out gay man living in an out community. The assumption was that he'd have no issues and therefore he'd be exempted for the neuroses that afflict straight guys. Well if it's true for the straights....

Movielover
Movielover

Rope was quite artful and Swoon more arty.  The character in Rope that was played by Jimmy Stewart was based on a real guy who was involved with one of the murderers (not the Farley Granger one).  Of course Jimmy Stewart couldn't be portrayed as in any way gay in the movie.  Hitchcock seemed crazy about gay bad guys.  That role is often very gay in his movies and even tv shows. 

Musto
Musto

PS: My friend points out that in the trailer for Pretty Poison, there's a shot of Perkins romancing his landlady. It was not in the film. But in general, his relationships with older women onscreen always verged on Oedipal: Ingrid Bergman, Melina Mercouri, Sophia Lauren, and in this movie there are sexual hints between him and Beverly Garland, not to mention the auntie connection and the cut landlady. It seems like the only way the movies could sexualize Perkins was to pair him with a mother figure. He does make out a lot with Weld in this film, but it turns out she's using him, and besides, Perkins isn't too convincing in his ardor. 

Musto
Musto

It must have been quite a feat for Arthur Laurents to minimize the gay subtext. Though I just saw a movie Laurents wrote called "Caught," loosely based on Howard Hughes, and there's an oily lackey character who calls everyone "darling" and is clearly gay.

But (a) He ends up having some sort of conscience.

(b) In both of these cases, Laurents adapted the screenplay from another medium.

Musto
Musto

Clarification: "Rope" was inspired by Leopold and Loeb. "Swoon" was about them by name.

rolph
rolph

Well, good thing you weren't part of the NY Film Critics Circle, who awarded it Best Screenplay of the Year.

Troofire
Troofire

Ho-hum.  I saw it when it first came out and was unimpressed.

Movielover
Movielover

Sounds like a tasty movie!  I wonder if Anthony Perkins got typed playing sort of icky, wan perverted roles.  He was a little weird seeming, but sexy.  If I got together with him I would have been wary if he started cross dressing.

Eye
Eye

Yeah, after Psycho and then this., that nailed it for Anthony. He got typed as the weird sickie, though he always brought a sympathetic edge to it.

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