There are certain films which I count as favorites that I think of as "Danny Peary movies", because I first discovered them via his Cult Movies books. PRETTY POISON is one of so many that Peary led me to and I am endlessly grateful for that. Peary included the film in his first Cult Movies book and he said this of it at the time: "One of the few still sparkling gems of late sixties, PRETTY POISON boasts not only a clever, thought-provoking script by Lorenzo Semple Jr., and a most impressive, unpretentious debut effort by director Noel Black (who hasn't made a good film since), but also the definitive performance of the inimitable Tuesday Weld, who otherwise has been totally misused in films". While I disagree that Black hasn't made another good film since (as I am a fan of both PRIVATE SCHOOL and his TV Movie QUARTERBACK PRINCESS), PRETTY POISON is absolutely his masterpiece. It is certainly a cult film even now, and I'd like to think that its cult has grown due to home video releases for the film post 2000. Prior to that, it wasn't an easy movie to track down and thus it remained on a shortlist of "must see" titles that I had extracted from Peary's books in college. My first experience watching it was quite memorable in that a friend of mine found a 16mm print of it on ebay and we gleefully threaded it up on a few occasions before the DVD was even rumored. It has had a few DVD releases subsequently, but this is the first U.S. Blu-ray that I know of (though there was a German Import - which I own). When I saw it on Twilight Time's announcements for November of this year, I was immediately elated that it would get the high definition treatment and would have some commentaries as well. You see, as long as the movie has been on my radar, I've wanted to know more about it. It's one of those kind of mysterious anomalies that features a couple high profile actors (Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld) in their prime and yet it slipped quietly away into obscurity for one reason or another. When I think of "cult movies", this is one that comes immediately to mind and it always gets me started thinking about how films can get lost in their time and have to be championed by passionate fans to keep their memory alive. There can be a variety of reasons why a film doesn't totally connect with an audience at the time of its initial release, but it often doesn't have much to do with the uniqueness of the movie itself. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time seems to be a common thing that can bring about a movie slipping through the cracks. PRETTY POISON is fascinating in that it plays kind of like a film noir, but also has elements of the "two mentally unstable people love story" genre (if you can call it that) mixed in there as well. Frank Perry's DAVID AND LISA is the primary example I think of, but the two main characters here are a bit more high-functioning (if more dangerous) than Keir Dullea and Janet Margolin were in that film. The basic setup for PRETTY POISON is that a disturbed man named Dennis Pit (Perkins) is released from a mental institution (it's made clear why he was there as the film progresses) on a sort of work release program. He has a parole officer type guy (John Randolph from SECONDS) who has help get him an assembly line job. Dennis is happy to be out in the world again and soon finds himself smitten with a cheerleader named Sue Ann Stepanek (Weld). As mentally unstable people are want to do, Dennis comes up with a fake
identity for himself as a secret agent and uses that as his come on to meet and talk to Sue Ann. The plan works better than he would have hoped as Sue Ann seems to believe him and she ends up pulling Dennis into her life and her problems at home which lead to some troubling events. Sue Ann can easily be seen as a femme fatale prototype, but the story and its trappings are so offbeat that the film takes on other levels of emotional complexity and it makes the whole thing much more memorable than my description could really express. The big thing about it is that both Perkins and Weld perform remarkably in these roles and I find that I am transfixed by both of them each time I watch it. For me it was this movie and THE TALL STORY that were particularly revelatory in terms of Anthony Perkins. I was, like many film fans, used to him as Norman Bates and as much as I had seen him out side that role, I still associated him strongly with it. PRETTY POSION in particular exhibited his special brand of innocence and vulnerability that makes him feel very childlike. There is also a charismatic impish cleverness that he brings across in the Dennis Pitt character that I've always found kind of irresistible and thus it is perhaps my favorite Perkins role overall. Tuesday Weld is an equally singular presence that brings with her an air of unpredictability and a vivacious, sexy charm that makes you believe that should could talk any fella into doing anything for her. That works perfectly for the character of Sue Ann Stepanek and what seems like an naive school girl becomes something much more sinister before Dennis even knows what's happening. One of the things that has helped the movie stick with me the most is the ending. I cannot speak specifically to it, but there is a moment with Tuesday Weld's character that I find quite moving and tragic, but could perhaps be read ambiguously. It has really stayed with me though, as has the movie as a whole for the many years since I first saw it.
This disc should be quite pleasing to fans of the film because of the several commentary options that it offers. First up is a new track featuring the film's producer Lawrence Turman, along with Nick Redman and Lem Dobbs. There's is much illumination provided here from Turman's own recollections of the movie to Dobbs mention of it being an influence on David Lynch (TWIN PEAKS and BLUE VELVET in particular show signs of having been impacted by this movie) and beyond - it is a great listen.
Second, there is a commentary from director Noel Black himself with film historian Robert Fischer recorded in 2005. I believe that this track is brought over from a region 2 import DVD, but it is so nice to have it on this Blu-ray. Black has a good deal to say about his recollections of the production and I was so intrigued to hear him talk about it. Black contextualizes some interesting things about the movement in the culture against violence in light of some shocking acts that had occurred in 1968 (those being the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr, and Robert Kennedy). Black also speaks to some choices that were made in adapting the story and characters to this film version and the things they did or didn't do in order to keep the audience's sympathy.
Lastly, there is a Deleted Scene Script excerpt and commentary on that scene - also from Noel Black and Robert Fischer.
You can buy PRETTY POISON on Blu-ray here: