Pretty Poison

August 19, 2014


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.”


Cry Vengeance

September 21, 2011

Cry Vengeance (oh, those literary sounding titles!) is a noir from 1954, directed by and starring Mark Stevens, who also starred in The Dark Corner.  In both, he plays a guy who’s out of the joint for a crime he didn’t commit, and who’s a little bit crazy.  As Vic Barron, in Vengeance, he’s an ex-cop badly burned on his face from a car bomb that killed his wife and child.  The bomb was set off by Roxie, the platinum blonde psycho hit man who works for a mobster, Rick.  Vic thinks Tito did it and framed him for some unnamed crime.

Tito fled to Alaska to avoid Vic’s wrath before Vic was railroaded to jail.  Why would Tito, a big racketeer be so timid?  No clue, but Vic is one nasty, obsessed guy. Vic gets on Tito’s trail to a small town in Alaska, where he’s reformed, and is living as a good citizen with his little girl.  Vic’s friends try repeatedly to stop him from taking the law into his own hands:  “Can’t you just forget?”  Vic never forgets, and as one hood asks sensibly, would you?

Vic is so obsessed with revenge, and his character is so tightly wound, that we think he might actually kidnap and kill Tito’s little girl to get even.  He surprises her at play, takes out his gun, and gives her a bullet, a present for her dad.  Daddy will get the message.  It’s a very creepy scene.

Although the plot is sort of mechanical, and some of the characters flat and unbelievable (the two mobsters on the lam, in particular) the movie works because of the incredible tension generated by Vic’s monosyllabic conversation, and his smoldering, corrosive, hatred and drive.  Roxie, the ice-cold killer with the dandified looks adds a wonderful sick and sinister note to the show.

Deep, deep, deeper…

December 1, 2008


Audition, is a very creepy film by a Japanese director known for creepiness, Takashi Miike.  A middle-aged, middle-class widower wants to remarry, so his cut-up of a friend in the entertainment business suggests they do an audition for a maybe real, maybe phoney show.  He meets the girl of his dreams, an aspiring actress who wants the main part.

Problem is, she’s a bit of a nut case.  The film is a little of Fatal Attraction, Psycho, and a whole lot of other horror films thrown together, but it’s paced surely, and it is actually quite restrained in its use of violence and gore, despite what you may read about it.  I mean, during the final scene when the lovely naif shown above is torturing her victim and severs his foot with a tourniquet wire, they don’t show the foot, blood, or anything.  How’s that for “art?” 

It is rather difficult to watch, but not as disturbing as what you might think from the reviews, just a different arty-Japanese twist on an old theme of the avenging femme fatale.  As she pushes the needles into the paralyzed body she’s tormenting (the drug prevents movement but not the feeling of pain) she says, “Deep, deep, deeper…” But then, maybe I just have a thick skin, heh, heh, heh…

There are all sorts of ways you could interpret this film:  misogynistic, sadistic, subversive of traditional male sexist values, kinky-erotic, whatever.  The director denies them all. 

I was most taken by the portrait of the main character, a regular guy with a little too much of the traditional romantic in him who got sucked in way, way over his head!