Directed by Noel Black
Distributed by Fox Home Entertainment
The idea of living in a fantasy world is pretty cool. I could be a secret agent or the President in my own mind (it certainly works for some people). Once in a while you can take folks along for the ride of lies and lite murder. There’s no harm in that at all … is there?
Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins) has had an eventful childhood. In his teens he burnt down a house which, sadly, also contained his aunt. The police usually don’t smile on situations like that so, of course, he was put in a place with limited flammability.
Much later, an older Mr. Pitt is finally paroled and can start attempting to lead a normal life. It doesn’t take long for his overactive imagination to start deconstruction his law abiding ways as Pitt dons the role of a CIA agent around his home and work.
All would have stayed relatively normal aside from the little quirks if Dennis had not spotted an all-American girl named Sue-Ann Stepanek (Tuesday Weld) during one of her flag marching practices. Pitt is so taken by her that he sets off a whole string of secret agent lies to impress the young beauty, and boy is she hooked. But is this lovely lady as innocent as she seems? Who is really manipulating whom?
There are a lot of things to like about Anthony Perkins. But the one thing it’s easy to grow weary of is how he remained typecast after his amazing performance in Pretty Poison and his earlier work Psycho. While it is hard not to compare his characters in both movies to one another, they are drastically different. Pitt doesn’t have the same nervousness about him that Bates had in Psycho until much closer to the end. Dennis remains calm and at ease most of the time until he notices that Sue-Ann is a bit of a basket case all of her own.
Pretty Poison does have many problems. It’s not exactly clear if Sue-Ann is just plain ignorant when it comes to Pitt’s obvious lies or if she uses his mental instability for her own means all through the film. It was just troubling, especially after she decided she was going to sit on a drowning elderly security guard until he stopped moving.
Maybe it’s just Tuesday Weld’s acting that throws the viewer off. She comes across as your average untainted teen from the 60’s, and her turn for the worse seems to happen too quickly to be fully understood. Then again I could just be picking this movie apart for no reason.
While meanspirited at times, the film isn’t exactly violent by any means. People get shot and a guy gets hit over the head and drowned, but it’s never conveyed in a graphic nature like many of today’s films. The blood is kept to a bare minimum, and with only two deaths it’s not much of a thriller or horror flick.
There were a few moments in Pretty Poison that seemed to serve no purpose other than to just waste time. Just plain old filler. Luckily Perkins’ performance helped to make even the most innocuous of scenes memorable.
The transfer is nice and clear 90% of the time with only a few extra grainy bits during close-up shots. All of the colors come through nice and bright as well, which is nice to see, especially on a bare bones DVD release like this one.
Pretty Poison is also lacking in the audio department. Unfortunately, the track is presented in all front loaded Dolby Digital Stereo. Though this isn’t a big deal when looking at the whole film, a little extra 5.1 ambient traffic wouldn’t hurt. Small things like hearing the cook work during the burger stand scenes would add that little extra bit to throw you into the movie. Oh well.
While the audio does indeed suck, it’s the extras that are the real problem here. We get one theatrical trailer for the film followed by a few more for other thrillers. There are no bios and no commentary. Was there really nothing else that could have been added to this? How about a comparison to the novel? Maybe an old interview with Perkins? We get next to nothing, and that, dear readers, sucks a rather large, hairy sac.
Shortcomings aside, Pretty Poison is very enjoyable little flick. As stated, it’s Perkins who makes it watchable, but Weld’s beauty helps too. We get some action, some violence, a little sex, and an end that makes you think about how much love is really worth. Pick it up, but don’t stay for the extras.
3 1/2 out of 5