Monday, November 27, 2006

Pretty Poison (1968)

Pretty Poison was billed as a teen exploitation flick but plays like a bad thriller—the kind that’s actually kind of fun. It's one of those movies that makes you wonder whether its comic effect is intentional, given how seriously everyone involved seems to be taking it. The story of a troubled young man (played by Anthony “Troubled Young Man” Perkins) who gets involved with a color-guard high school blond (played by Tuesday Weld, whose name sounds like a to-do list at a shipyard—Monday: Rivets. Tuesday: Weld) includes badly planned espionage, heavy handed dialog, tragic-yet-unexplained psychotic pasts, and inappropriate romance. At its opening, we and Tony are warned that fantasies can be dangerous in the real world; he's going out on his own now, away from this “facility,” and he'd better stop with all that imagination stuff.

Well, he doesn't. He also breaks his probation (from his not-jail) for no other apparent reason than to work at a chemical plant instead of the lumber yard, where the dumping of bright red waste into a river fixates him like so much blood. He also fixates on the high school color guard, and Tuesday in particular, to whom he spontaneously presents himself as a CIA agent. The bored little girl believes him, and the two embark on the most inept juvenile crime spree ever. Tony's a great CIA agent until Tuesday's belief in him leads to the discovery that she's even more insane than he is. He makes up stories; she brings them to life, leaving Tony completely paralyzed.

Psychologically, the movie makes no sense. We never really figure out what's wrong with this guy, or even really why we're supposed to believe there is something wrong with him. And the instant metamorphosis from blond cheerleader to raging psychobitch likewise goes unexplained. In fact, the main characters' every action seems inexplicable.

All the same, there is a certain entertainment value. The director's lack of subtlety can be somewhat humorous, and Perkins is always good as the seemingly unwilling and confused baddie. But unlike Psycho, his confusion here is due to sheer ineptitude rather than Norman's split personality. Couldn't we at least have had some men pretending to be doctors explain everything he did in an anti-climactic denouement? Perkins had the unfortunately ability to project adorable psychotic confusion, which got him typecast in crap like this. Unlike the muddy waters of the film's psychological state, however, the lesson is clear: imaginative, intelligent, inept young men are always screwed over by pretty young girls with ambition. Remember, boys: “The world has no place for fantasies.”

No comments: