This clip, also embedded above, features Larry Karaszewski (writer, with Scott Alexander, of Ed Wood , The People vs. Larry Flynt , and The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story ) discussing Noel Black’s Pretty Poison (1968) as part of the Trailers from Hell series. Be warned that the clip (as well as this blog entry) contains significant plot spoilers, but otherwise serves as a nice, concise appreciation of the film. Karaszewski reserves particular praise for Tuesday Weld, who plays Sue Ann Stepenek in the movie, as well as for screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr., the scribe who subsequently penned The Parallax View (1974) and Three Days of the Condor (1975).
Karaszewski also makes reference to what remains star Anthony Perkins’ most famous role, as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and the sequels that followed. The question of who is the real danger in Pretty Poison is a good entry point for discussion, as Perkins’ role in Psycho almost certainly sets up the audience to expect him to be the villain. Perkins’ Dennis Pitt is fresh from the mental ward for his role in a traumatic occurrence some years prior to the events of the film. He is clearly a disturbed individual, possibly schizophrenic, yet as the movie unfolds we see that it is really Weld’s Sue Ann who poses the real threat.
Pretty Poison looks ahead to the neo-noirs of the 1980s and 1990s with its small-town setting covering for some pretty dark developments; this includes an equally prescient strain relating to environmental degradation, particularly at the plant in which Perkins’ characters is employed for a time. Sue Ann ends up being a pretty archetypal femme fatale behind her wholesome blonde good looks and marching band uniform, happy to play Dennis’ delusions to her ultimate benefit where we might initially assume she is the one being taken advantage of (Perkins has a late-in-the-game monologue to his parole office reflecting on just this issue and which gives the film its title).
Is the film a counter-narrative to all those stories, like Psycho, in which mentally ill people tend to commit varying degrees of atrocities, and if so does it simply offer a countervailing narrative drenched in misogyny instead? Weld is not necessarily the typical female noir destroyer of the 1940s, at least not in appearance and overall demeanour, but is the archetype given any particularly novel depth here otherwise? I am not sure if there are any easy answers to these questions, and would love to hash this out further in the comments section.
Also, whenever the topic of Tuesday Weld comes up it is essential to provide a link to this clip (also embedded below) of one of the most disturbing father-daughter relationships ever committed to film, from George Axelrod’s 1966 classic of WTF cinema, Lord Love a Duck (which also gives you some sense of Weld’s onscreen persona outside of the confines of Pretty Poison):
Jordan, L. (2011, September 11). “Cashmere sweaters” – Lord love a duck. Retrieved April 10, 2017, from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXdUNZUP_os
Trailers from Hell. (2013, November 13). Larry Karaszewski on pretty poison. Retrieved April 10, 2017, from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sS2dDRSCSi8&app=desktop
Turman, L., Backlar, M., & Black, N. (Producers), & Black, N. (Director). (1968). Pretty poison [Motion picture]. United States: 20th Century Fox.