Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 1968
Directed by
Noel Black
89 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Pretty Poison

Noel Black had only directed a couple of television series episodes before delivering this distinctively offbeat thriller.  Anthony Perkins plays Dennis Pitt,  a mild-mannered young man with an active imagination just released from  a psychiatric institution. He is told by his probation officer (John Randolph) that he has a job lined up in a lumber yard that he must contact him each week and behave himself.  Somehow he ends up working in a chemical plant which he fantasizes is poisoning the waterways of North America ( a strong environmental message constitutes one of the film's sub-themes ). When he meets pretty-as-a-picture teenage cheerleader Sue-Ann he tries to impress her by telling her that he is a CIA agent on a counter-sabotage.  Sue-Ann is thrilled to be involved in such a dangerous mission but soon Dennis finds that her commitment to excitement goes well beyond his imagination.

The combination of a refreshingly original story (taken from a novel by Stephen Geller) and Black’s playful  direction makes this a quite appealing film, almost a black comedy but not exactly fitting any category. For a while it looks to be shaping up to a era-typical indie comedy a la Harold And Maude about the way that Dennis’s Walter Mitty-ish imagination transforms his mundane existence into a high drama.  But when Sue-Ann turns out to be much further gone down the road of mental illness than he the film takes a decidedly darker tone.

If Perkins is not always flawless his characteristic manner is well-suited to the role but it is Weld, a perpetual teen throughout the 60s who turned  down better films than she made (notably Lolita and Bonnie And Clyde), embodying the film’s title, who gives the film its twisted pizzazz. Sue-Ann's pathological duplicity is worthy of any of the viillainesses of classic film noir. Beverly Garland who had starred on 1950s noirs like D.O.A.  is also strong as Sue-Ann’s “do-as-I-say-don’t-do-as-I-do" mother.

The film quickly sank out of sight on release despite the reputation of the leads and Black returned to television where he spent most of the next 25 years of his career. Pretty Poison is not a masterpiece but free of expectations of audiences of the time we can now appreciate its off-centredness and Black’s economical but distinctive direction.

Available from: Screenpop




Want something different?

random vintage best worst