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July 15, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #28 - Pretty Poison

Before we begin, I have a confession to make. It has always been my goal, since the new year when the Midnight Movie of the Week series began, that all consecutive movies in this series would be films that were released at least five years apart. It's basically been the only rule I follow regarding my blog. Last night, I asked for recommendations over at my Twittah account, and even made sure to point out that I didn't want any recommendations of films released between 1967-1975, since last week's pick - The Abominable Dr. Phibes - was released in 1971. Yet tonight, when I went to my DVD room for inspiration, I excitedly grabbed Pretty Poison and put it in, despite the fact it was released in 1968. I shame me.

So, we've got Pretty Poison this week. Anthony Perkins stars as Dennis Pitt, a "troubled" young man. We've seen that before. But in this case, he's just been released from an incarceration that came about due to some childhood arson which killed his aunt, and doesn't seem to have any kind of mother issues.What Dennis does have, however, is an active imagination. When he meets his case officer in the opening scene, he laments that the factory work he's being set up with is a waste of his talents...because Dennis feels like he has some bigger calling, like being on the first Venus rocket. And when Dennis falls for a teenage girl he finds sitting alone in a theater (watching a gangster movie, too!) his mind races faster. He ends up telling her that he's a secret agent, and she becomes intrigued by his tale. That case officer once warned him that the world was no place for fantasies, and Dennis should have listened.

Tuesday Weld - a fetching 25 year old blonde with an innocent smile and the right kind of batty eyelashes - co-stars as Sue Ann, the girl who becomes the titular poison. It's easy to see why Dennis falls for her, though it's less obvious as to why a girl like her would be looking for an older and more awkward fellow like him. Their relationship moves fast, and it isn't long before they're fooling around in the woods and plotting schemes like tampering with the factory Dennis hates working at. As one may guess, the combination of carefree teenage mind and mind of an ex-teenage delinquent don't mix well, and things go wrong fast.Pretty Poison uses a lot of film-noir staples (it's surely got the "femme fatale" idea down pat), but shuns that film movement by spending most of its time in the daylight. It's also easy to see that Perkins' performance as Pitt owes far more to his time with Hitchcock than anything Bogart or Mitchum did while wearing an overcoat in a black-and-white film. The game is the same - an impressionable fellow gets his trousers roused by a woman with a problem - but Pretty Poison plays up the idyllic setting and refuses to become just another gritty drama.

Perkins is responsible for a lot of the charm the film offers. Dennis isn't far off from Norman Bates - which is a good thing from an entertainment standpoint - and Perkins is allowed to use most of the same quirks that made that character so memorable. There are few actors (if any) who can play a character who's clearly got issues and still seems worthy of our sympathy. Perkins' name must be at the top of that list. Weld doesn't disappoint either, and is a tart anecdote to Dennis. She manages to charm without any blatant flaunting, which leaves a realistic "girl-next door" feeling as the plot moves forward.Pretty Poison definitely doesn't fall into the horror genre, but it's an interesting piece of subversive cinema that plays well as a distant cousin to Psycho. The leads give it more than enough juice to keep the simple plot going, and director Noel Black and screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr. (who was responsible for Batman 1966, Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View AND Flash Gordon!) add some nice touches to the simple idea. Pretty Poison never fails to entertain during its brief run-time, and I'm comfortable saying it's a fine addition to the Midnight Movie of the Week clan. Even if I am breaking my own rules.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

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