Pretty Poison was released in 1960 to excellent notices. I remember addiing it to the must-see list. But I didn't get around to it at the time, probably because the film wasn't widely distributed. But Pretty Poison stuck in my mind -- or rather it was the combination of Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld that excited my interest. During the VHS years I made another attempt to see the movie, but it was apparently stuck in some sort of royalty-and-ownership dispute and never made it onto tape. And then another twenty years elapsed and I tried again, this time typing the name into my Netflix queue, and, mirabile dictu, there it was. So at last, after fifty years, a cd of Pretty Poison appeared in the mailbox.
It's a fine film, well worth the wait. I don't know what I would have thought about it in 1960, but in 2010 it seems like a late variant of 1950s film noir and an important but unacknowledged waystation on the road from Double Indemnity to Body Heat. It offers a dangerous jeune fille fatale in the highschool cheerleader Mary Ann Stepanek, some great plot twists, and a creepy young man who's not as clever as he thinks (very similar to his lineal descendant, the fatuous lawyer Ned Racine). The photography, all sunlit and cheerful, disguises the noirish themes and keeps the audience off balance. The screenwriter, Lorenzo Semple Jr., was, if I remember correctly, just emerging from the McCarthy blacklist, which may be why the film stresses cold-war themes -- spies and sabotage and the like. Can it be accidental that, in the last year of the Eisenhower administration, a well-meaning but ineffective government employee as given the name Azenauer?
When Tuesday Weld, scion of an ancient Massachusetts family performed in this film, I was taking courses in Cambridge, in Weld Hall. She does a great job -- and how could anyone not be struck by her great name. Tuesday Weld is linked, in my mind, not only to the Saltonstalls, Peabodys, and Lodges but also to Billy Sunday, Rick Monday, Joe Friday, January Jones, Fredric March, May West, June Jones, August Busch, Susan Sontag, Domenico Scarlatti and Jeudi Garland.