Pretty Poison


1h 29m 1968
Pretty Poison

Brief Synopsis

A young man gets in over his head when he convinces a small-town girl he's a secret agent.

Film Details

Also Known As
She Let Him Continue
MPAA Rating
Genre
Crime
Thriller
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1968
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 18 Sep 1968
Production Company
Lawrence Turman Films, Inc.; Molino Productions
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Great Barrington, Massachusetts, USA
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel She Let Him Continue by Stephen Geller (New York, 1966).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 29m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Color (DeLuxe)

Synopsis

As a teenager, Dennis Pitt was institutionalized for burning down his home and accidentally killing his aunt. Now years later, he is on parole working in a chemical factory in a small New England town. Living in a paranoic's world, he becomes convinced that the factory is polluting the river and poisoning the entire Eastern seaboard. One day he meets Sue Ann Stepanek, a pretty high school drum majorette, who complains of the restrictions placed on her by her widowed mother. Dennis then poses as a CIA agent on orders to destroy the factory, and Sue Ann delightedly agrees to help him. On the night they attempt to sabotage the factory and unexpectedly encounter the night watchman, Sue Ann knocks the watchman unconscious and drowns him. When Dennis becomes the prime suspect because of his record, Sue Ann consents to run away with him to Mexico, but they return home for her clothes and are interrupted by the arrival of Mrs. Stepanek. Realizing that Dennis is incapable of murder, Sue Ann shoots her mother and orders Dennis to dispose of the body. Instead, he calls the police. At the hearing, Sue Ann denounces Dennis and watches casually as he is accused of the murders. Dennis, hopelessly in love with Sue Ann and aware that no one would believe him if he told the truth, makes no effort to defend himself, although Azenauer, his probation officer, believes him innocent. Some time later, Sue Ann meets another young man and begins to complain about the trouble she is having with her new foster parents.

Photo Collections

Pretty Poison - Movie Posters
Here are two different styles of American one-sheet movie posters for Fox's Pretty Poison (1968), starring Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

Pretty Poison (1968) - You Don't Doubt Me? Tremendous freak out by Dennis (Anthony Perkins) at work in the lumber mill, chewed out by boss Dick O'Neill, edited by William Ziegler with images of Tuesday Weld, from director Noel Black's Pretty Poison, 1968.
Pretty Poison (1968) - Sorry, That's Classified Paroled patient Dennis (Anthony Perkins) is working his secret agent spell with plausible machismo on high schooler Sue Ann (Tuesday Weld) in an early scene from director Noel Black's Pretty Poison, 1968.
Pretty Poison (1968) - The CIA Does Cover This? Fake secret agent Dennis (Anthony Perkins) is looking to impress his high-schooler girlfriend Sue Ann (Tuesday Weld) by letting her help sabotage the lumber mill, when she unexpectedly raises the stakes, in director Noel Black's Pretty Poison, 1968.
Pretty Poison (1968) - No Place At All For Fantasies Anthony Perkins as Dennis seems a lot like Norman Bates, as he's lectured and released by counselor Azenauer (John Randolph), then goes on to observe co-star Tuesday Weld, as drill-teamer Sue-Anne, opening director Noel Black's Pretty Poison, 1968.
Pretty Poison (1968) - Lascivious Carriage Mischievous parolee Dennis (Anthony Perkins) is talking crime with short-order cook Pete (Joseph Bova) when Sue Ann (Tuesday Weld), whom he's been kind of stalking, initiates their fateful first meeting, in director Noel Black's Pretty Poison, 1968.
Pretty Poison (1968) - Ice Cold Nerves Spiky conversation between Mrs. Stepanek (Beverly Garland) and daughter Sue Ann (Tuesday Weld) when her scheme to pass date Dennis (Anthony Perkins) off as a family friend falters, in director Noel Black's Pretty Poison, 1968.
Pretty Poison - Credits, Sue Ann Tuesday Weld (as drill-teamer Sue Ann) in her memorable first appearance, Dennis (Anthony Perkins) observing, as the credits roll in the second scene from director Noel Black's Pretty Poison, 1968.

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Also Known As
She Let Him Continue
MPAA Rating
Genre
Crime
Thriller
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1968
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 18 Sep 1968
Production Company
Lawrence Turman Films, Inc.; Molino Productions
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Great Barrington, Massachusetts, USA
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel She Let Him Continue by Stephen Geller (New York, 1966).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 29m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Color (DeLuxe)

Articles

The Gist (Pretty Poison) - THE GIST


You could say that Anthony Perkins' career ended with his virtuoso performance in Psycho in 1960. Regardless of how many unique and original films he made in the aftermath of that career-defining movie such as Orson Welles' version of The Trial (1962), Play It As It Lays (1972), Remember My Name (1978) and others, Hollywood casting agents and the general public could never see him as any other character besides Norman Bates or some equivalent nutcase. Perkins must have sensed this too because he left the U.S. shortly after the release of Psycho to work in European films for several years. While he did return to America in 1965 to make The Fool Killer, a small independent film shot in Tennessee and distributed by Allied Artists, hardly anyone saw the movie and it wasn't until 1968 that Perkins returned to Hollywood to make features.

Pretty Poison, the first film Perkins made upon his return, should have revitalized his movie career but the timing was terrible. The distributor, 20th-Century-Fox, was in dire financial straits after numerous and costly box office disasters such as Star! (1968), the Julie Andrews megamusical, and clueless about how to market this offbeat and compelling little gem. As a result, Pretty Poison got buried in a limited distribution rollout and it wasn't until after it disappeared that it began to amass a cult reputation over the years.

When Anthony Perkins was first offered the lead role in Pretty Poison, he was still performing on Broadway in Equus. Noel Black, the film's director, recalled in Charles Winecoff's biography of Perkins that "'Tony had not done a mainstream American movie in years and was, in the common vernacular, considered to be hurting...Any other actor would have jumped at this opportunity, and used the fact that we didn't have a good backup for him as leverage for more money. Tony did not ask for more money.' He accepted their offer of $75,000, considerably less than he had been getting."

Pretty Poison marked the feature film debut of 26-year-old UCLA film school graduate Noel Black and was clearly the sleeper of 1968, a small-scale but brilliantly realized psychological thriller that managed to end up on several critics' top ten best lists. The film continues to weave a hypnotic spell after 42 years and makes one wonder what ever happened to Noel Black, who made several subsequent movies but nothing as memorable as Pretty Poison.

Based on the novel She Let Him Continue by Stephen Geller, the film follows Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins), an arsonist and recent ex-con who is trying to start a new life in a small Massachusetts town. He lands a job in a chemical plant but has a hard time reigning in his overactive imagination once he gets a glimpse of Sue Ann Stepanek (Tuesday Weld), a stunning blonde majorette at the local high school. Pretending to be an agent for the CIA, Dennis makes a strong impression on Sue Ann and quickly draws her into his private world. But Sue Ann's craving for excitement knows no bounds and she is soon the driving force in the relationship, manipulating Dennis in a plot to murder Sue Ann's controlling mother (Beverly Garland).

Pretty Poison perfectly captures the small town milieu that is oppressive to both Dennis and Sue Ann and provides the contrast to their unchecked fantasy life (it was filmed on location in Great Barrington, Massachusetts). Without the exceptional performances of Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld, however, the film might not have worked at all. Perkins creates a genuinely sympathetic protagonist who, despite being a felon and a fatalist, is also well-mannered, vulnerable and no real threat to anyone. He's also no match for Tuesday Weld's Sue Ann whose beautiful features hide a wicked, completely amoral schemer. Both deserved Oscar® nominations for their work here but were overlooked in favor of more blatantly theatrical performances in each category - Cliff Robertson as Best Actor in Charly, and for Best Actress, a tie between Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter and Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. Perkins and Weld would later be reteamed for the film version of Joan Didion's novel, Play It As It Lays (1972).

According to biographer Charles Winecoff in Split Image: The Life of Anthony Perkins, the filming of Pretty Poison was much more difficult than anyone expected. As a first time director, Noel Black had little experience with feature film crews. "Noel knew how to set up shots," actor John Randolph [he plays Dennis's parole officer in the film] remembers, 'but he knew nothing about acting. Tuesday Weld was neurotic as hell. She would break down and cry. She hated the director, and she permitted that hatred to color everything she did. So Tony was dealing with a director who did not know how to talk to actors and an actress who was hysterical half the time.' Even so, Perkins gently rose to Black's defense when the tough New York crew, many of whom had worked with seasoned pros like Elia Kazan and Sidney Lumet, began giving the novice director a hard time." Perkins could also be surprisingly generous to his fellow cast members at times and, in one instance, helped Beverly Garland prepare for the scene where she is shot at point blank range by her daughter on the stairs; Perkins showed her how to tumble down the steps without injuring herself.

In 1990 Pretty Poison was screened at UCLA with Perkins, Black and John Randolph in attendance, followed by a question and answer forum. According to Stephen Paley, who attended the screening with Perkins and his family, "He [Tony] only pretended to like the movie at the screening, but in the privacy of the car, driving home, he said, 'That really was a piece of sh*t, so slow moving!'" Obviously, actors are not always the best judges of their work and even critics can miss the boat on unusual films like Pretty Poison. For example, upon its release, the Variety reviewer stated, "Awkwardly begun and tediously developed, the film...goes too much off the track." On the other hand, Pauline Kael, in her review of Pretty Poison wrote "Anthony Perkins gives what may be his most sensitively conceived performance" and critics such as Newsweek's Joseph Morgenstern agreed. There's a good chance you will too.

Producers: Joel Black, Marshal Backlar
Director: Noel Black
Screenplay: Lorenzo Semple, Jr.; Stephen Geller (novel "She Let Him Continue")
Cinematography: David Quaid
Art Direction: Harold Michelson, Jack Martin Smith
Music: Johnny Mandel
Film Editing: William Ziegler
Cast: Anthony Perkins (Dennis Pitt), Tuesday Weld (Sue Ann Stepanek), Beverly Garland (Mrs. Stepanek), John Randolph (Morton Azenauer), Dick O'Neill (Bud Munsch), Clarice Blackburn (Mrs. Bronson), Joseph Bova (Pete), Ken Kercheval (Harry Jackson), Don Fellows (Detective), George Ryan's Winslow High-Steppers (Drillmaster & Team).
C-89m.

by Jeff Stafford

SOURCES:
Split Image: The Life of Anthony Perkins by Charles Winecoff
www.afi.com
The Gist (Pretty Poison) - The Gist

The Gist (Pretty Poison) - THE GIST

You could say that Anthony Perkins' career ended with his virtuoso performance in Psycho in 1960. Regardless of how many unique and original films he made in the aftermath of that career-defining movie such as Orson Welles' version of The Trial (1962), Play It As It Lays (1972), Remember My Name (1978) and others, Hollywood casting agents and the general public could never see him as any other character besides Norman Bates or some equivalent nutcase. Perkins must have sensed this too because he left the U.S. shortly after the release of Psycho to work in European films for several years. While he did return to America in 1965 to make The Fool Killer, a small independent film shot in Tennessee and distributed by Allied Artists, hardly anyone saw the movie and it wasn't until 1968 that Perkins returned to Hollywood to make features. Pretty Poison, the first film Perkins made upon his return, should have revitalized his movie career but the timing was terrible. The distributor, 20th-Century-Fox, was in dire financial straits after numerous and costly box office disasters such as Star! (1968), the Julie Andrews megamusical, and clueless about how to market this offbeat and compelling little gem. As a result, Pretty Poison got buried in a limited distribution rollout and it wasn't until after it disappeared that it began to amass a cult reputation over the years. When Anthony Perkins was first offered the lead role in Pretty Poison, he was still performing on Broadway in Equus. Noel Black, the film's director, recalled in Charles Winecoff's biography of Perkins that "'Tony had not done a mainstream American movie in years and was, in the common vernacular, considered to be hurting...Any other actor would have jumped at this opportunity, and used the fact that we didn't have a good backup for him as leverage for more money. Tony did not ask for more money.' He accepted their offer of $75,000, considerably less than he had been getting." Pretty Poison marked the feature film debut of 26-year-old UCLA film school graduate Noel Black and was clearly the sleeper of 1968, a small-scale but brilliantly realized psychological thriller that managed to end up on several critics' top ten best lists. The film continues to weave a hypnotic spell after 42 years and makes one wonder what ever happened to Noel Black, who made several subsequent movies but nothing as memorable as Pretty Poison. Based on the novel She Let Him Continue by Stephen Geller, the film follows Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins), an arsonist and recent ex-con who is trying to start a new life in a small Massachusetts town. He lands a job in a chemical plant but has a hard time reigning in his overactive imagination once he gets a glimpse of Sue Ann Stepanek (Tuesday Weld), a stunning blonde majorette at the local high school. Pretending to be an agent for the CIA, Dennis makes a strong impression on Sue Ann and quickly draws her into his private world. But Sue Ann's craving for excitement knows no bounds and she is soon the driving force in the relationship, manipulating Dennis in a plot to murder Sue Ann's controlling mother (Beverly Garland). Pretty Poison perfectly captures the small town milieu that is oppressive to both Dennis and Sue Ann and provides the contrast to their unchecked fantasy life (it was filmed on location in Great Barrington, Massachusetts). Without the exceptional performances of Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld, however, the film might not have worked at all. Perkins creates a genuinely sympathetic protagonist who, despite being a felon and a fatalist, is also well-mannered, vulnerable and no real threat to anyone. He's also no match for Tuesday Weld's Sue Ann whose beautiful features hide a wicked, completely amoral schemer. Both deserved Oscar® nominations for their work here but were overlooked in favor of more blatantly theatrical performances in each category - Cliff Robertson as Best Actor in Charly, and for Best Actress, a tie between Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter and Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. Perkins and Weld would later be reteamed for the film version of Joan Didion's novel, Play It As It Lays (1972). According to biographer Charles Winecoff in Split Image: The Life of Anthony Perkins, the filming of Pretty Poison was much more difficult than anyone expected. As a first time director, Noel Black had little experience with feature film crews. "Noel knew how to set up shots," actor John Randolph [he plays Dennis's parole officer in the film] remembers, 'but he knew nothing about acting. Tuesday Weld was neurotic as hell. She would break down and cry. She hated the director, and she permitted that hatred to color everything she did. So Tony was dealing with a director who did not know how to talk to actors and an actress who was hysterical half the time.' Even so, Perkins gently rose to Black's defense when the tough New York crew, many of whom had worked with seasoned pros like Elia Kazan and Sidney Lumet, began giving the novice director a hard time." Perkins could also be surprisingly generous to his fellow cast members at times and, in one instance, helped Beverly Garland prepare for the scene where she is shot at point blank range by her daughter on the stairs; Perkins showed her how to tumble down the steps without injuring herself. In 1990 Pretty Poison was screened at UCLA with Perkins, Black and John Randolph in attendance, followed by a question and answer forum. According to Stephen Paley, who attended the screening with Perkins and his family, "He [Tony] only pretended to like the movie at the screening, but in the privacy of the car, driving home, he said, 'That really was a piece of sh*t, so slow moving!'" Obviously, actors are not always the best judges of their work and even critics can miss the boat on unusual films like Pretty Poison. For example, upon its release, the Variety reviewer stated, "Awkwardly begun and tediously developed, the film...goes too much off the track." On the other hand, Pauline Kael, in her review of Pretty Poison wrote "Anthony Perkins gives what may be his most sensitively conceived performance" and critics such as Newsweek's Joseph Morgenstern agreed. There's a good chance you will too. Producers: Joel Black, Marshal Backlar Director: Noel Black Screenplay: Lorenzo Semple, Jr.; Stephen Geller (novel "She Let Him Continue") Cinematography: David Quaid Art Direction: Harold Michelson, Jack Martin Smith Music: Johnny Mandel Film Editing: William Ziegler Cast: Anthony Perkins (Dennis Pitt), Tuesday Weld (Sue Ann Stepanek), Beverly Garland (Mrs. Stepanek), John Randolph (Morton Azenauer), Dick O'Neill (Bud Munsch), Clarice Blackburn (Mrs. Bronson), Joseph Bova (Pete), Ken Kercheval (Harry Jackson), Don Fellows (Detective), George Ryan's Winslow High-Steppers (Drillmaster & Team). C-89m. by Jeff Stafford SOURCES: Split Image: The Life of Anthony Perkins by Charles Winecoff www.afi.com

Pretty Poison


Stories of young lovers with a killing streak are not uncommon in the movies, and the best of them - Arthur Penn's rollicking Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Terrence Malick's artful Badlands (1973), Oliver Stone's bloodthirsty Natural Born Killers (1994) - have become classics of modern film. Pretty Poison, a pitch-dark 1968 comedy directed by Noel Black, arrived in the wake of Bonnie and Clyde, and its rough similarity to Penn's game-changing hit is one reason it slipped into theaters and then TV without attracting much notice. Then too, Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld are great fun to watch, but they don't have the far-reaching charisma of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Penn's movie, or even of Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in Malick's contribution to the genre. And while Penn, Malick, and Stone put their killer couples on the road, speeding through the countryside with the law at their heels, Black keeps his duo stuck in a rural Massachusetts town where a teenager itching to travel may have to settle for carrying a flag with the high-school marching team. Still and all, Pretty Poison has acquired a loyal following over the years, and its reputation continues to rise.

Perkins plays Dennis Pitt, a likable guy with an easygoing smile, a troubled past, and perhaps a troubled present as well. The first time we meet him he's being released from a mental institution; when he jokes with probation officer Morton Azenauer (John Randolph) about signing up for the first space flight to Venus, the unsmiling officer gives him a serious reminder that fantasy and reality can be a dangerous combination when you're back in the world for the first time in years. A bit later we learn that Dennis was convicted of arson at age fifteen, after starting a house fire that killed his aunt. Now he's an adult who has to behave himself if he wants to remain free, so he takes a job in a chemical factory and settles into a work routine that's dull enough to send almost anyone toward fantasyland.

Things liven up when he meets the girl of his dreams: high-school siren Sue Ann Stepanek, played by Weld with her usual high spirits. Dennis spots her practicing steps with the marching team on a road near the factory, and he strikes up an acquaintance with her the first chance he gets. He does this on his own unusual terms, giving her extremely strong hints that he's a secret agent for the government looking for an assistant just like her. Sue Ann is thrilled, and while Dennis has nothing to do with the government, he actually does have a secret mission in mind. The factory that employs him dumps enormous quantities of brightly colored chemicals into the river running alongside it. By unbolting a section of the drainage chute, Dennis tells Sue Ann, they can sabotage the plant's operations, thereby saving the environment from poisons that are pretty to look at but awful in their effects. He doubles down in his resolve when Azenauer pays a visit to the factory, inadvertently losing Dennis his job by spilling the beans about his past.

When the sabotage scheme goes wrong in a deadly way, Dennis is horrified. He's also astonished to see Sue Ann enjoying the situation as if it were an exciting adventure instead of an unfolding tragedy. Things get even stranger when Sue Ann's mother interrupts their plan of getting away to Mexico, bringing about more mayhem and revealing still more poison in Sue Ann's ostensibly sweet personality. Dennis has caused much chaos and confusion in his time, but compared with Sue Ann he's almost a responsible citizen. The ending is subtly ironic, suggesting that if Sue Ann is eventually brought to justice, the previously clueless Azenauer may be the person to thank.

Perkins has two great talents as an actor. One is the ability to appear amiable and even charming on the outside while suggesting dark, dangerous currents deep down; his Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's superb Psycho (1960) is the all-time best example. His other great talent is for getting nervous - just slightly at first, then a little more and a little more, expressed through muscle tics, eye movements, and other tiny symptoms caused by anxieties building to the breaking point. Pretty Poison puts both talents to good use, and Perkins's performance would take over the entire movie if Weld weren't such an ideal partner, giving Sue Ann a fresh-faced beauty and eager-beaver attitude that contrast marvelously with the malevolence festering inside her. Feminist film critic Molly Haskell has shown that Hollywood fostered a "Lolita cult" in the 1960s, centered on child-woman figures like Sue Lyon's eponymous nymphet in Stanley Kubrick's Lolita (1962) and Mia Farrow's more innocent Allison MacKenzie in the TV version of Peyton Place that ran from 1964 to 1969. Weld's Sue Ann Stepanek is a first-rate specimen of the big-screen Lolita, and she draws Dennis into a web of temptation and disaster without half trying, since he helpfully weaves half the web himself. Dennis is the movie's protagonist, but Sue Ann is its propulsive force.

After making his mark with the exhilarating short Skaterdater in 1966, Black directed only a handful of features before turning to the television work that dominated his thirty-year career. He injects some potent visual ideas into Pretty Poison, especially in his use of color and in understated touches like the rays that seem to emanate from Dennis's head as he gazes at his chemical-checking screen in the factory. In all, though, the picture's style is very much of its late-1960s era, employing halfhearted zoom shots and nodding toward sexual openness with irreverent dialogue about "making out" and "making it" and glimpses of Sue Ann in a bra. Pretty Poison seems mighty tame alongside 1968 pictures like Roman Polanski's audacious Rosemary's Baby, George A. Romero's explosive Night of the Living Dead, and Kubrick's mind-bending 2001: A Space Odyssey, all of which were bigger hits at the time and are better remembered and more highly respected today. But that's all the more reason to take another look at Black's mischievous blend of comedy, thriller, and psychodrama. It's an odd hybrid that shouldn't be allowed to slip through the cinematic cracks.

Director: Noel Black
Producer: Marshal Backlar and Joel Black
Screenplay: Lorenzo Semple, Jr.; based on a novel by Stephen Geller
Cinematographer: David Quaid
Film Editing: William Ziegler
Art Direction: Jack Martin Smith and Harold Michelson
Music: Johnny Mandel
Cast: Anthony Perkins (Dennis), Tuesday Weld (Sue Ann), Beverly Garland (Mrs. Stepanek), John Randolph (Azenauer), Dick O'Neill (Bud Munsch), Clarice Blackburn (Mrs. Bronson), Joseph Bova (Pete), Ken Kercheval (Harry Jackson), Don Fellows (Detective), George Ryan's Winslow High-Steppers (Drillmaster & Team).
C-90m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.

by David Sterritt

Pretty Poison

Stories of young lovers with a killing streak are not uncommon in the movies, and the best of them - Arthur Penn's rollicking Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Terrence Malick's artful Badlands (1973), Oliver Stone's bloodthirsty Natural Born Killers (1994) - have become classics of modern film. Pretty Poison, a pitch-dark 1968 comedy directed by Noel Black, arrived in the wake of Bonnie and Clyde, and its rough similarity to Penn's game-changing hit is one reason it slipped into theaters and then TV without attracting much notice. Then too, Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld are great fun to watch, but they don't have the far-reaching charisma of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Penn's movie, or even of Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in Malick's contribution to the genre. And while Penn, Malick, and Stone put their killer couples on the road, speeding through the countryside with the law at their heels, Black keeps his duo stuck in a rural Massachusetts town where a teenager itching to travel may have to settle for carrying a flag with the high-school marching team. Still and all, Pretty Poison has acquired a loyal following over the years, and its reputation continues to rise. Perkins plays Dennis Pitt, a likable guy with an easygoing smile, a troubled past, and perhaps a troubled present as well. The first time we meet him he's being released from a mental institution; when he jokes with probation officer Morton Azenauer (John Randolph) about signing up for the first space flight to Venus, the unsmiling officer gives him a serious reminder that fantasy and reality can be a dangerous combination when you're back in the world for the first time in years. A bit later we learn that Dennis was convicted of arson at age fifteen, after starting a house fire that killed his aunt. Now he's an adult who has to behave himself if he wants to remain free, so he takes a job in a chemical factory and settles into a work routine that's dull enough to send almost anyone toward fantasyland. Things liven up when he meets the girl of his dreams: high-school siren Sue Ann Stepanek, played by Weld with her usual high spirits. Dennis spots her practicing steps with the marching team on a road near the factory, and he strikes up an acquaintance with her the first chance he gets. He does this on his own unusual terms, giving her extremely strong hints that he's a secret agent for the government looking for an assistant just like her. Sue Ann is thrilled, and while Dennis has nothing to do with the government, he actually does have a secret mission in mind. The factory that employs him dumps enormous quantities of brightly colored chemicals into the river running alongside it. By unbolting a section of the drainage chute, Dennis tells Sue Ann, they can sabotage the plant's operations, thereby saving the environment from poisons that are pretty to look at but awful in their effects. He doubles down in his resolve when Azenauer pays a visit to the factory, inadvertently losing Dennis his job by spilling the beans about his past. When the sabotage scheme goes wrong in a deadly way, Dennis is horrified. He's also astonished to see Sue Ann enjoying the situation as if it were an exciting adventure instead of an unfolding tragedy. Things get even stranger when Sue Ann's mother interrupts their plan of getting away to Mexico, bringing about more mayhem and revealing still more poison in Sue Ann's ostensibly sweet personality. Dennis has caused much chaos and confusion in his time, but compared with Sue Ann he's almost a responsible citizen. The ending is subtly ironic, suggesting that if Sue Ann is eventually brought to justice, the previously clueless Azenauer may be the person to thank. Perkins has two great talents as an actor. One is the ability to appear amiable and even charming on the outside while suggesting dark, dangerous currents deep down; his Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's superb Psycho (1960) is the all-time best example. His other great talent is for getting nervous - just slightly at first, then a little more and a little more, expressed through muscle tics, eye movements, and other tiny symptoms caused by anxieties building to the breaking point. Pretty Poison puts both talents to good use, and Perkins's performance would take over the entire movie if Weld weren't such an ideal partner, giving Sue Ann a fresh-faced beauty and eager-beaver attitude that contrast marvelously with the malevolence festering inside her. Feminist film critic Molly Haskell has shown that Hollywood fostered a "Lolita cult" in the 1960s, centered on child-woman figures like Sue Lyon's eponymous nymphet in Stanley Kubrick's Lolita (1962) and Mia Farrow's more innocent Allison MacKenzie in the TV version of Peyton Place that ran from 1964 to 1969. Weld's Sue Ann Stepanek is a first-rate specimen of the big-screen Lolita, and she draws Dennis into a web of temptation and disaster without half trying, since he helpfully weaves half the web himself. Dennis is the movie's protagonist, but Sue Ann is its propulsive force. After making his mark with the exhilarating short Skaterdater in 1966, Black directed only a handful of features before turning to the television work that dominated his thirty-year career. He injects some potent visual ideas into Pretty Poison, especially in his use of color and in understated touches like the rays that seem to emanate from Dennis's head as he gazes at his chemical-checking screen in the factory. In all, though, the picture's style is very much of its late-1960s era, employing halfhearted zoom shots and nodding toward sexual openness with irreverent dialogue about "making out" and "making it" and glimpses of Sue Ann in a bra. Pretty Poison seems mighty tame alongside 1968 pictures like Roman Polanski's audacious Rosemary's Baby, George A. Romero's explosive Night of the Living Dead, and Kubrick's mind-bending 2001: A Space Odyssey, all of which were bigger hits at the time and are better remembered and more highly respected today. But that's all the more reason to take another look at Black's mischievous blend of comedy, thriller, and psychodrama. It's an odd hybrid that shouldn't be allowed to slip through the cinematic cracks. Director: Noel Black Producer: Marshal Backlar and Joel Black Screenplay: Lorenzo Semple, Jr.; based on a novel by Stephen Geller Cinematographer: David Quaid Film Editing: William Ziegler Art Direction: Jack Martin Smith and Harold Michelson Music: Johnny Mandel Cast: Anthony Perkins (Dennis), Tuesday Weld (Sue Ann), Beverly Garland (Mrs. Stepanek), John Randolph (Azenauer), Dick O'Neill (Bud Munsch), Clarice Blackburn (Mrs. Bronson), Joseph Bova (Pete), Ken Kercheval (Harry Jackson), Don Fellows (Detective), George Ryan's Winslow High-Steppers (Drillmaster & Team). C-90m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning. by David Sterritt

Pretty Poison - Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld in Noel Black's PRETTY POISON on DVD


The feature film debut of 26-year-old UCLA film school graduate Noel Black, Pretty Poison was the sleeper of 1968, a small-scale but brilliantly realized psychological thriller that was practically buried by 20th-Century-Fox upon its release (they didn't know how to market it) but still managed to end up on several critics' top ten best lists. Now available on DVD, the film continues to weave a hypnotic spell after 38 years and makes one wonder what ever happened to Noel Black, who made several subsequent movies but nothing as memorable as Pretty Poison.

Based on the novel She Let Him Continue by Stephen Geller, the film follows Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins), an arsonist and recent ex-con who is trying to start a new life in a small Massachusetts town. He lands a job in a chemical plant but has a hard time reigning in his overactive imagination once he gets a glimpse of Sue Ann Stepanek (Tuesday Weld), a stunning blonde majorette at the local high school. Pretending to be an agent for the CIA, Dennis makes a strong impression on Sue Ann and quickly draws her into his private world. But Sue Ann's craving for excitement knows no bounds and she is soon the driving force in the relationship, manipulating Dennis in a plot to murder Sue Ann's controlling mother (Beverly Garland).

Pretty Poison perfectly captures the small town milieu that is oppressive to both Dennis and Sue Ann and provides the contrast to their unchecked fantasy life (it was filmed on location in Great Barrington, Massachusetts). Without the exceptional performances of Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld, however, the film might not have worked at all. Perkins creates a genuinely sympathetic protagonist who, despite being a felon and a fatalist, is also well-mannered, vulnerable and no real threat to anyone. He's also no match for Tuesday Weld's Sue Ann whose beautiful features hide a wicked, completely amoral schemer. Both deserved Oscar® nominations for their work here but were overlooked in favor of more blatantly theatrical roles in each category - Cliff Robertson as Best Actor in Charly, and for Best Actress, a tie between Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter and Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. Perkins and Weld would later be reteamed for the film version of Joan Didion's novel, Play It As It Lays (1972).

According to biographer Charles Winecoff in Split Image: The Life of Anthony Perkins, the filming of Pretty Poison was much more difficult than anyone expected. As a first time director, Noel Black had little experience with feature film crews. "Noel knew how to set up shots," actor John Randolph [he plays Dennis's parole officer in the film] remembers, "but he knew nothing about acting. Tuesday Weld was neurotic as hell. She would break down and cry. She hated the director, and she permitted that hatred to color everything she did. So Tony was dealing with a director who did not know how to talk to actors and an actress who was hysterical half the time." Even so, Perkins gently rose to Black's defense when the tough New York crew, many of whom had worked with seasoned pros like Elia Kazan and Sidney Lumet, began giving the novice director a hard time." Perkins could also be surprisingly generous to his fellow cast members at times and, in one instance, helped Beverly Garland prepare for the scene where she is shot at point blank range by her daughter on the stairs; Perkins showed her how to tumble down the steps without injuring herself.

In 1990 Pretty Poison was screened at UCLA with Perkins, Black and John Randolph in attendance, followed by a question and answer forum. According to Stephen Paley, who attended the screening with Perkins and his family, "He [Tony] only pretended to like the movie at the screening, but in the privacy of the car, driving home, he said, 'That really was a piece of sh*t, so slow moving!" Obviously, actors are not always the best judges of their work. Pauline Kael, in her review of Pretty Poison wrote "Anthony Perkins gives what may be his most sensitively conceived performance" and critics such as Newsweek's Joseph Morgenstern agreed. There's a good chance you will too.

For more information about Pretty Poison, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Pretty Poison, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeff Stafford

Pretty Poison - Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld in Noel Black's PRETTY POISON on DVD

The feature film debut of 26-year-old UCLA film school graduate Noel Black, Pretty Poison was the sleeper of 1968, a small-scale but brilliantly realized psychological thriller that was practically buried by 20th-Century-Fox upon its release (they didn't know how to market it) but still managed to end up on several critics' top ten best lists. Now available on DVD, the film continues to weave a hypnotic spell after 38 years and makes one wonder what ever happened to Noel Black, who made several subsequent movies but nothing as memorable as Pretty Poison. Based on the novel She Let Him Continue by Stephen Geller, the film follows Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins), an arsonist and recent ex-con who is trying to start a new life in a small Massachusetts town. He lands a job in a chemical plant but has a hard time reigning in his overactive imagination once he gets a glimpse of Sue Ann Stepanek (Tuesday Weld), a stunning blonde majorette at the local high school. Pretending to be an agent for the CIA, Dennis makes a strong impression on Sue Ann and quickly draws her into his private world. But Sue Ann's craving for excitement knows no bounds and she is soon the driving force in the relationship, manipulating Dennis in a plot to murder Sue Ann's controlling mother (Beverly Garland). Pretty Poison perfectly captures the small town milieu that is oppressive to both Dennis and Sue Ann and provides the contrast to their unchecked fantasy life (it was filmed on location in Great Barrington, Massachusetts). Without the exceptional performances of Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld, however, the film might not have worked at all. Perkins creates a genuinely sympathetic protagonist who, despite being a felon and a fatalist, is also well-mannered, vulnerable and no real threat to anyone. He's also no match for Tuesday Weld's Sue Ann whose beautiful features hide a wicked, completely amoral schemer. Both deserved Oscar® nominations for their work here but were overlooked in favor of more blatantly theatrical roles in each category - Cliff Robertson as Best Actor in Charly, and for Best Actress, a tie between Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter and Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. Perkins and Weld would later be reteamed for the film version of Joan Didion's novel, Play It As It Lays (1972). According to biographer Charles Winecoff in Split Image: The Life of Anthony Perkins, the filming of Pretty Poison was much more difficult than anyone expected. As a first time director, Noel Black had little experience with feature film crews. "Noel knew how to set up shots," actor John Randolph [he plays Dennis's parole officer in the film] remembers, "but he knew nothing about acting. Tuesday Weld was neurotic as hell. She would break down and cry. She hated the director, and she permitted that hatred to color everything she did. So Tony was dealing with a director who did not know how to talk to actors and an actress who was hysterical half the time." Even so, Perkins gently rose to Black's defense when the tough New York crew, many of whom had worked with seasoned pros like Elia Kazan and Sidney Lumet, began giving the novice director a hard time." Perkins could also be surprisingly generous to his fellow cast members at times and, in one instance, helped Beverly Garland prepare for the scene where she is shot at point blank range by her daughter on the stairs; Perkins showed her how to tumble down the steps without injuring herself. In 1990 Pretty Poison was screened at UCLA with Perkins, Black and John Randolph in attendance, followed by a question and answer forum. According to Stephen Paley, who attended the screening with Perkins and his family, "He [Tony] only pretended to like the movie at the screening, but in the privacy of the car, driving home, he said, 'That really was a piece of sh*t, so slow moving!" Obviously, actors are not always the best judges of their work. Pauline Kael, in her review of Pretty Poison wrote "Anthony Perkins gives what may be his most sensitively conceived performance" and critics such as Newsweek's Joseph Morgenstern agreed. There's a good chance you will too. For more information about Pretty Poison, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Pretty Poison, go to TCM Shopping. by Jeff Stafford

Quotes

You know, when grown-ups do it, it's kind of dirty. That's because there's no one to punish them.
- Sue Ann Stepanek

Trivia

Anthony Perkins was so convincing in his role as the mentally disturbed Dennis Pitt as he had been in as Norman Bates in Psycho (1960) that it typecast him for the rest of his career.

Notes

Location scenes filmed in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Working title: She Let Him Continue.

Miscellaneous Notes

Voted Best Screenplay by the 1968 New York Film Critics.

Released in United States Fall September 1968

Released in United States Fall September 1968