In 1968, a year after Bonnie and Clyde caused a sensation, the way more obscure Pretty Poison trotted out just as bizarre a criminal couple consisting of a weird guy with a sick imagination and a stunning blonde who eagerly bites his bait.
But this time, the Bonnie isn’t necessarily working in tandem with her Clyde.
Let me give you some background.
Anthony Perkins plays a twisted but basically sympathetic guy who — just like Norman Bates — was permanently damaged by a female family member’s overpossessiveness.
Perkins’ aunt beat him when he “played doctor” with a girl, causing him to ignite Auntie’s house and retreat into a world of paranoid, self-serving fantasies.
When the movie starts, the ex-“juvenile arsonist” gets unleashed back onto New England Americana, where he immediately finds an audience for his line of bull.
He entices bored young cheerleader Madonna — I mean Tuesday Weld — into the exciting fiction that he’s a CIA agent trying to protect the water system from an alien organization’s poison.
But the constantly craving teen has even more dangerous thoughts in her mind, and they have to do with her patronizing mother (B-movie star Beverly Garland, smoking and barking epithets so persuasively you assume she’s the monster).
The plot this pretty poisonous cookie cooks up and the way she pulls it off provides a lot of the neo-noirish highs of this movie — directed by Noel Black — holding a mirror to the dark side of American gloss and banality, where evil lurks behind every pom-pom.
At the time, the studio dumped the film as if it were poison, but enthusiastic reviews helped it get some attention as well as a New York Film Critics Award for Best Screenplay.
And the acting is extraordinary, too.
The tart little gem plays through tomorrow at Film Forum.
See it, or I’ll turn on you.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 8, 2012