I only heard about Pretty Poison (1968) from the NYTimes obituary for the director, Noel Black. He spoke of it after it flopped and was pulled from the theatres, saying:
“Essentially, we saw it as a story with many comedic elements in a serious framework — a kind of black comedy or existential humor of which ‘Dr. Strangelove’ is a prototype,” he said. “We hoped people would take it on more than one level.”
Let’s just stay at one level, not sure if it’s high or low: it has one of the strangest femme fatales I have ever seen in film.
Anthony Perkins plays a disturbed parolee named Dennis Pitt, a man who deals with his discomfort with the world by spinning outrageous fantasies, this time about his being a tip-top secret agent. He spots Sue Ann (Tuesday Weld) practicing with her high school marching band, goes to work on her. She seems to be a sweet, impressionable young girl, and the whole thing seems unbelievably corny and silly for a while, as he flirts with, and then woos her with his dark persona of an international man of mystery.
He has a destructive bent, and he enlists her in his plot to sabotage a local factory. Sue Ann knows her way around a wrench, big or small, pulls this one out of her blouse, and gets to work.
They are discovered by a night watchman, and Sue Ann calmly bonks him on the head with her wrench. He’s not dead, so she pushes him the water and then climbs onto him to drown him. Ride ’em, cowgirl!
She explains, it’s easier this way, isn’t it?
From here on in, we’re in Gun Crazy, Bonnie & Clyde, and yes, Dr. Strangelove territory. Those crazy kids, but which one is really crazy? Maybe Anthony Perkins isn’t so typecast here as we thought?
The blue Sunbeam roadster is a nice touch. Sue Ann’s toy.
Nothing for it but to shoot her mother, get married, and make off to Mexico, her idea. He isn’t quite up to killing Mom, so she does it while he’s sick in the toilet. Some heavy handed imagery here…
“Oh Dennis, I feel like we’re already married. What do people do when they’ve just been married, Dennis?”
“Oh, uh…I don’t think I can right now…” No problem, she says. They’ll just get rid of the body and then skedaddle.
“Dennis, I’m so hung up on you. I’ll always love you.”
“Yes, I’m quite impressed with your capacity for loving.”