Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Good Times, Good Times

[Who wants Cake?]

Seeing as I reviewed a drug scare movie earlier this week (and that I've been rewatching the best high school show ever, "Strangers With Candy"), I thought it would be behoovie for me to post the 1970 short film The Trip Back. This PSA follows the former boozer, user, and loser Florrie Fisher as she yells at a group of high school students about the dangers of drug addiction and prostitution.

Although, more generally, the show "Strangers With Candy" was a satire of After School Specials, Amy Sedaris' character Jerri Blank was specifically based on Ms. Fisher. And the resemblance is uncanny. Any fan of the show will instantly recognize that its creators and writers [Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, and Paul Dinello] liberally stole chunks of dialogue directly from Fisher for use in their sitcom. I don't know if The Trip Back would be of interest to anyone who hasn't seen Strangers With Candy, but I sure got a kick out of it. The moral of the story: watch fucking "Strangers With Candy".

[Part 1]

[Part 2]

[Part 3]

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Cocaine Fiends (aka The Pace That Kills) (1935)

dir. William A. O'Connor

"Say, I can fix that right up. I got the grandest headache medicine in the world."

I have a terrible memory for faces and names (and pretty much everything else). I would like to blame it on a chemical substance, but, truth be told, this shit is genetic. It runs in my family. God only knows what I'll be like as an old codger. I picture myself sitting on a porch, shotgun in hand, ranting about "global warming, human rights abuses, the various ills of the world, pancakes, delicious pancakes, I want some...somebody fill my shoes with creamed corn." I usually have to meet a person about four or five times before my mind grapes store the info and I am able to remember that person's face or name (a few more meetings is usually required for me to remember both a name and a face). So as not to seem rude, when people are surprised that I don't remember meeting them, I use the age old excuse, "I must have been drunk when we met." Inevitably, I probably give this excuse to the same people repeatedly. I wouldn't even know how many friends of friends remember me as that alcoholic guy with the perpetual deer in headlights expression.

My shitty memory is also quite a hindrance when it comes to my movie watching. It is usually not until a movie is a third or, sometimes, halfway through that I am able to differentiate between the various, usually white, characters. Call me racist, but white people all look the same to me. What with their identical hair styles and clothes, the golden Hollywood era collection of white people in particular, is one jumble of interchangeable faces, suits and skirts. When watching a movie from this period, I usually spend half the time trying to figure out which character is which. I actually had to rewatch a couple portions of William A. O'Connor's Depression era The Cocaine Fiends when I realized that it was society girl Dorothy, not dope-fiend Fanny, being scolded by her wealthy, soon to be revealed as a gangster, father. When a bar brawl broke at a dive called The Dead Rat, forget about it. I had no idea who was winning, who was losing, or which girl had been surreptitiously kidnapped by hop-headed hoods. All I saw was a sea of fists, fedoras, and flappers.

Whether or not this confusion was my fault or that of the filmmakers is a mystery, but it certainly, in an odd way, enhanced my viewing experience of this wacked out movie. A few years before the likes of Reefer Madness, Marihuana, and Assassin of Youth lit the world on fire with their exposes on the harmful effects of the Devil's weed, O'Connor shone a light on the, by contrast, non habit farming, no possible bad side effects causing, thoroughly awesome drug of cocaine. Down home good girl Jane Bradford (Lois January) finds her life turned upside when smooth talking city fella Nick (Noel Madison) passes through town and eases her pain with some dynamite "headache powder." Gee, that's some swell stuff. This gal goes head over heels for her new man and his steady supply of nose clams fresh from the sea. As she says, "I'm not sure. I hardly know you Nick, and yet when I'm with you I'm so happy, and I'm miserable and depressed when you're gone."

"Why you're all nervous and upset. Here, take one of these headache powders and everything will look brighter."

The honeymoon doesn't last long for these two lovebirds. It ends somewhere between the time that the gangster Nick forces his dupe into prostitution and when he tells her that, being all used up, the big boss doesn't need her anymore. Jane's farm-boy brother Eddie (Dean Benton), sent to the city to search for his doped up tramp sister, soon becomes involved with dope-fiend gal Fanny (Sheila Bromley). It's not long before this newly converted hop-head forces Fanny to turn tricks for dope and cash. When Eddie finds out that his cash machine is with child, he dumps the former flapper Fannie like yesterday's news. [I sure am alliteration happy today.] Fannie, without any other options, kills herself. Oh yeah, there's also a tacked on twist-filled happy ending in which slumming rich gal (and previously minor character) Dorothy (Lois Lindsay) gets kidnapped by the organization and then saved by the unsavable Jane who offs Nick.

[Something about this man's mustache tells me he's a straight shooter.]

The economic storytelling of studio era productions never ceases to amaze me. What took Darren Aronofsky two hours to examine in Requiem for a Dream, O'Connor manages to pump out in half the time. In the span of sixty minutes, we witness a wholesome girl-next-door turn into a dope-fiend, prostitute, and murderer; a farm boy turn into a dope-fiend, opium den habitue, and lover-turned-prostitute-who-eventually-offs-herself-when-turning-preggers-spurning asshole; and a rich society girl flirt with the darkside only to find out that her supposed broker dad is actually in charge of the vice rackets, and that her boyfriend Dan is actually an undercover cop who only dated her to get close to her dad, but in the end fell in love with her. Plus two musical numbers. [I am of the opinion that a jaunty show-tune would have immeasurably enhanced Requiem's ass to ass scene.]

["Say, doll-face, after the box social, what we say we go all Tony Montana on a mountain of pure Colombian snow?"

"Gee, Eddie, that sounds swell!"]

The number of storylines this film follows is quite impressive. Of course, most of these are not fleshed out, but that matters little in this fast-paced cocaine fueled world. Although the movie initially centers on Jane (and ends with Dorothy's redemption), the majority of the film follows Eddie and Fanny's speedy, thrilling descent into a cocaine fueled hell/paradise. After losing their jobs and living in squalor, they become involved with the sorts of undesirables Eddie never dreamed of back on the farm. As is obvious in this clip, things get a tad dicey when Eddie and Fanny run afoul of some unsavory gangsters at The Dead Rat.

It's interesting to see what passed for a seedy dive bar back in olden times. The Dead Rat is a well adorned nightclub filled with well dressed patrons who listen to professional singers accompanied by live bands, all in elegant surroundings. Sure, the occasional fight might erupt here, but I highly doubt that this place is in dire need of Patrick Swayze(circa Road House)'s bouncing services. Such dated elements in older pictures never cease to amuse me. Earlier in the film when Eddie joins Fanny at another nightclub, for instance, the former farm boy is in a tizzy when he sees the jaw-droppingly huge bill.

The humor inherent in such movies as Reefer Madness, Marihuana, and Assassin of Youth, is rooted in the fact that people turning criminally insane, rather than lazing around and giggling, after one stick of pot is absolutely ludicrous. Blow addiction, though not as harmful as riding the horse, is a more serious matter. Compared to its weedsploitation contemporaries, the histrionics of The Cocaine Fiends are a slight touch less absurd. That's not to say that this film doesn't tickle the funny bone. It is quite a trip, for instance, to imagine that folks from our grandparent's and great grandparent's generation went on "sleigh rides with snow birds." The Greatest Generation indeed.

The Cocaine Fiends is also a repository of such great lines (pun intended) as:

"Yeah, honey, you're gonna get plenty of thrills out of this town."

"School'll be out in a few minutes. I think I'll stick around and see if any of my kid customers have got any money today."

"Oh dad, don't worry about me. I'm alright. It's just that you're so respectable and serious minded about things. You're way behind life as it's lived today."

"I'm gonna take you on a sleigh ride with some snow birds."

[I'm not sure how Asian Americans at the time must have felt about the fact that one of the rare instances in which actual Asians were used to play Asian parts in a movie, took place in an opium den.]

Of the many unintentionally funny aspects of O'Connor's picture, perhaps my favorite is the fact that, after an extensive period of fiending for and blowing "headache powder", Jane did not realize that her happy medicine was an addictive drug until the old woman holding her hostage as a sex slave informed her that it was blow. For some reason, knowing that she was using cocaine, made the agonizingly depressing withdrawal worse. When she thought she was using a strictly medicinal substance, the mind-blowing highs and agonizing lows were perfectly understandable. Nothing to worry oneself over. Apparently, the dope-fiend Rush Limbaugh had a similar reaction when he found out that his beloved Oxy's were in fact a high grade narcotic, and not just happy Jesus vitamins as he had been led to believe by the swarthy Persian born New Yorker who lured Rushy into a world of vice and drugs only to break the portly radio-man's heart.

[The trailer]

Dave's Rating:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I Wanna Dip My Balls in It!

No, that's not a reference to the current cuckoo right-wing "grassroots movement" sponsored by Fox News. No, it's a reminder that, after much teasing and false promises, the cult sketch comedy show "The State" is finally being released on DVD. July 14, 2009. Bastille Day, motherfuckers.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Shark! (1969)

dir. Sam (Motherfuckin') Fuller

"Let's worry about a replacement. It'll have to be an outsider, someone who needs us as much as we need him."
-Professor Dan Mallare

Because poverty has become all the rage of late, people may forget that, back in the day, there was quite a stigma attached to not having money. Growing up poor as shit, my siblings and I were rarely afforded the finer things in life. Forget video games, those were a pipe dream. When I was a young'un, what I wanted more than anything was a kick ass Encyclopedia set. [Yes, I was poor and a nerd, a winning combination in the school social circles.] Although Encyclopedia Brittanica was the holy grail, I would have settled for a lesser substitute such as The World Book. Pleading with my parents did little to fill their bank account with cash, however. I gave up hope that we would ever get these reference books. One day, though, much to my initial delight, my mom came home from the grocery story with the first few entries of the Funk & Wagnalls brand Encyclopedia Generica. My delight soon subsided, however, when I realized that this cheap knock-off encyclopedia was not the same brand that my richer classmates had at home. Sure, it was the same basic idea as a regular ass encyclopedia, but something about it just felt dirty. Something just felt wrong.

Such was the feeling I had when watching the Burt Reynolds vehicle Shark!, an, in name only, Sam Fuller production. Shark! has become an infamous entry in the Sam Fuller cannon. This project was offered to Fuller by a Mexican production company, during the director's long dry spell. Hungry for work, Fuller leaped at the chance to turn a routine action picture into something his own. Beset by challenges throughout filming: uncooperative producers, a stuntman's death at the hands of a shark, Fuller would finish the film only to have the project wrested from his hands by the careless producers and re-edited into a much less interesting picture. Fuller was forever embittered by the experience.

Although Shark! does disappoint, it is easy to see where it could have been a decent addition to Fuller's filmography had he had his way in the editing room. Burt Reynolds
plays Caine, a surly gun-runner working in the Middle East. After losing all of his possessions, when his truck explodes during a high speed chase, Caine hitches his way to a small town where he befriends a drunken doctor (Arthur Kennedy). He soon comes under the employ of an aging professor (Barry Sullivan) and his youngish assistant (Silvia Pinal), as a captain for their boat. This crew is in search of precious sea minerals that can be used to create food and fight world hunger, or so the professor says. It is soon revealed that the professor's deep sea diving missions are not for food miracle minerals, but gold bricks buried in the hull of a sunken ship. In order to obtain this treasure, the professor, and soon Caine, must navigate the shark infested deep. A series of plot twists and double crosses ensue.

Most disturbing to Fuller about this production was the death of the aforementioned stuntman. This tragedy stuck with him for the rest of his life. The producers, on the other hand, did their most to exploit this death in the hopes of bringing in a larger audience. In the interest of seeming not completely evil, the producers attached this blurb to the opening credits.

I'm sure that the stuntman's widow must have been rightly thrilled to see the selfless producers write such a heroic tribute to her fallen husband.

"When you woke me at three in the morning that awful night to tell me that my husband died in a shark attack, felt like someone reached inside and took all the air out of me. I couldn't even cry, the shock, the goddamned shock, so great was that shock. I just stood there stunned. It was two weeks before I could even leave the house. I had to be carried to and from the funeral. I couldn't handle it. I...well...just thinking about that again...I." The widow began to sob.

The producer interrupted her, "Look, Ma'am-"

"Wait, let me finish. I gotta get this off my chest. This just...I...I didn't think I could go on living, living without my man. God knows why I even decided to come to this godforsaken premiere. I mean, the director didn't even come."

"Well, look lady-"

"Let me finish. Let me finish. Why I would come to a movie filled with scenes of my husband's death...why...I don't's beyond me. Maybe I was just hoping to catch a glimpse of my man again. When you lose someone so young...when you...well, I guess I just needed to see him again. I don't know, maybe I wanted to hurt myself. I could've kept him here, if I told him not to go work on the picture, you know. He always listened to me. He would have not gone...if I told him. I wanted to stop him but I didn't. I guess, I blamed myself. Maybe I saw hurting myself as a way of penance."

"I wasn't gonna say anything, but now that you mention it, when you're husband died, I heard him say, 'I blame this all on my wife, not those handsome, intelligent producers.'" The producer then started to trail off, "Anyways, that's what we told the Mexican police. They seemed to..."

"The pain, the pain. I came prepared for the goddamned pain. I didn't even think I'd be able to make it through this goddamned movie. But then it happened. It happened. You mentioned my husband's work in the opening credits. To think that my man's death at the hands of sharks, would be vaguely alluded to in a pseudo tribute at the beginning of a soon to be forgotten drive-in movie made it all: the sleepless nights, the boozing, the breaking down and sobbing in the middle of the grocery store seafood section, that, all that, it made it all worthwhile."

"Yeah, we're classy like that."

"Thank you Hollywood."

The producer and the widow turned toward a photographer and gave simultaneous thumbs up.

The unfortunate death of the stuntman was not the only tragedy to befall this picture. Also, but not equally, unforgivable is the inept pacing and flat out boringness of much of Shark!. Fuller was renowned as a director of entertaining pictures. In Park Row, for instance, he even managed to make typesetting an exciting activity. The fact this film is so often dull, speaks volumes about the producers and the editors they hired to destroy the picture. To fuck up a Fuller directed film about international intrigue, deep sea treasure hunting, and shark battles, the editors would have had to be quite the masters of ineptitude. [On an unrelated note, I am also troubled by the fact that this film probably contains actual footage of the stuntman being killed.]

Although the producers did their damndest to de-interesting-ify
Shark!, the film is not without some distinctly Fullerian moments. Most notable is the inclusion of the young cigar smoking, Short Round-esque pickpocket, referred to as Runt (Carlos Barry). This was an obvious autobiographical touch. Working up through the ranks of a major New York paper at a very young age, the hard-bitten Fuller was mature beyond his years. Many of his films (The Steel Helmet, Park Row) include such precocious young characters. Unless someone can give me evidence to the contrary, I will always contend that young Sammy emerged from the womb smoking a stogie.

[Artist's rendition of a young Sam Fuller]

Autobiographical elements are also present in Reynolds' character Caine. Although Fuller complained of the then TV actor being unprofessional, the future star does give a decent performance here. Echoing Gene Evans performance in The Steel Helmet and Richard Widmark's in Pickup on South Street (and indeed any of Sam Fuller's heroes) Reynolds conveys a fuck it all attitude quite in fitting with his character's hard bitten realism. He's a bastard, but as Jerri Blank would say, "When I make the wrong choices, I'm doing it for all the right reasons." Frequently bucking the system, and playing against Hollywood's rules, Fuller could quite identify with these outsider characters.

Despite such Fuller touches, however, everything seems off. Sure, many of the right Sam Fuller notes have been hit, but all of the soul has been removed. I am of the opinion that Fuller, in fact, did not direct this picture, but rather that the producers used his non-union Mexican equivalent, Sam Fullero.

Dave's Rating:

Friday, April 17, 2009

Awesome Movie Trailers: Underworld U.S.A. (1961)

dir. Sam Fuller

As any regular reader of my blog knows, I have a raging hard-on for the films of Sam Fuller. Because it's been a while, I'm going to review another one of his pictures next week (you'll have to come back on Monday to find out which one). In the meantime enjoy this trailer to the gangland actioner Underworld U.S.A., featuring an awesome introduction by none other than Mr. Fuller.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Baby Blood (aka The Evil Within) (1990)

dir. Alain Robak

"Yanka, I want the blood of the man you killed. I need it to develop myself. I need it for my birth, so you need to feed me properly."
-Demon Baby

I can't quite recall the first eighties splatter flick I ever saw, but I do remember that I got hooked at an early age. Of the many things that these pictures had going for them, perhaps their greatest asset was lots o' bare tits. Was it the chance of seeing nudity that attracted me to these pictures, or did I genuinely appreciate these movies solely as horror pictures? Which came first, my love of splatter flicks or my love of tits? The chicken and the egg. Another one of those age old mysteries. Who can say why I really- who am I kidding, it was the tits. I came back for the tits.

Although my love for these movies has waned over the years, I still occasionally return to them. Inevitably, I am always overcome by deep feelings of nostalgia when I watch one of these pictures. Whether it's the eighties milieu or the memories of my first movie tittie sightings, they make me feel like a kid again. Such was indeed the case while recently watching Alain Robak's French demonic fetus flick Baby Blood. Although it's a bit of a stretch to include this in my tribute to evil children movies, Baby Blood is close enough in spirit to this genre that I'm willing to bend the rule.

Gap-toothed, well endowed, frequently nude French hottie Emmanuelle Escourrou stars as Yanka, an exploited carnie in desperate need of a new job. Both her boss/lover Lohman (Christian Sinniger) and the tigers she performs tricks with have the tendency toward irrational violent behavior. When the carnival's recently arrived African leopard spontaneously explodes, a mysterious snake-like creature escapes from its innards and sneaks into Yanka's cooch. After impregnating her, the unborn demon spawn mind-melds with her, commanding her to imbibe massive quantities of human blood so that it can continue to grow, develop and eventually be born. When Yanka refuses to kill for the demon spawn, it attacks her from inside causing severe damage. She has no choice but to relent, and decides to escape the circus for Paris. Her boss/lover tracks her down to a rundown apartment where the nekid Yanka offs him and drinks his blood. From here Yanka escapes, traveling to different locales. We are then treated to a series of, sometimes humorous, vignettes as Yanka takes a murder filled, baby-demon-life-sustainin'-blood-drinkin' tour of France. Typical French cinema. [This plot is actually quite similar to Agnes Varda's original screenplay for Cleo From 5 to 7.]

[Some tasteful examples of Baby Blood's gratuitous nudity.]

During one of their many conversations, Demon Baby explains to Yanka that once he is born she will have to bring him to the ocean. Why the ocean, you might be wondering. Well, once here his species will evolve and learn to walk on land over a period of years until, 60 billion years from now, his species will overtake the human race. In the film's finale she gives birth to the creature, which escapes onto a bus full of lecherous soccer players. In hot pursuit, Yanka follows it onto the vehicle, which she takes control of and crashes, producing a huge explosion. In the final shot, the camera moves across a deserted beach covered by blood tracks leading to the ocean. Oh no! The creature's descendants will come back for more killing...60 billion years from now. Those French sure know how to make a scary ending. [Incidentally, a sequel has been filmed and is slated for release this year. Seeing as Escourrou is reprising her Yanka role, I doubt that this film takes place 60 billion years in the future.]

Not that I have any experience in this department, so I could be completely wrong, but Baby Blood seems quite the parable for the horrors of pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum depression and whatnot. This woman must do everything she can to protect the living being growing inside of her, a being which she also resents. It is an unwanted pregnancy, which she isn't allowed to abort. Like the women living in a pre-pro-choice society, she is not allowed control of her own body.

Baby Blood, in many ways, acts as a feminist splatter flick (one with just enough nudity insurance to ensure a strong male audience, mind you). In one amusing vignette, Yanka sets up a date with a mustachioed man, henceforth referred to as Creepy Von Douche McDateraperson, at a fine restaurant where the three of them (Yanka, Creepy, and Demon Baby) get shitfaced but proper. The intoxicated demon baby is baffled by the strange human courting rituals. It cannot understand why Yanka makes faces showing various emotions to pretend that she is attracted to the man, compelled by his boring stories, and finds his jokes funny. Eventually growing bored of this rote dinner conversation, the baby tells her, "I have an idea, you fuck him and I grab him by the balls." Catherine Breillat would be proud.

["Would you like a roofie, er- I mean, wine refill?"]

["Is there something in my teeth?"]

Of course, this movie doesn't get everything right. In one sequence, Yanka hitches a ride with a man who tells stories of growing up gay. He then says, in a winking manner, that he recently converted to the straight world, thus tipping us off that it should only be a matter of time before he gets fresh and she has to kill the motherfucker. When they stop at a gas station, however, the supposedly shallow, lecherous trucker ditches Yanka so that he can make room in his vehicle for a couple of busted-Daytona-stripper lookin' German hitchhikers. Apparently, in the gay to straight conversion, he also became beauty blind.

Director Robak's ingenuity and playful attitude brings to mind the early works of Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi, not to mention the Troma studio. [Robak's filmmaking, of course, is light years beyond much of Troma's output. What Troma has lacked in quality, however, it has more than made up for in tastelessness.] Also, as with many of the best horror pictures, Baby Blood is much more than the sum of its gruesome parts. It is a world in which a demon impregnation has left our heroine simultaneously empowered (she wreaks vengeance on the misogynistic assholes who have abused and harassed her) and powerless (she is not allowed control of her own body). Robak's smart, biting horror comes with a heaping helping of astute social commentary, tits.

[Incidentally, for anyone interested, Baby Blood has a cameo from the titular dog of the previous year's Baxter. Reason enough to check out this flick.]

Dave's Rating:

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Everyone Poops Trailer Available!

I'm usually not one to post fake trailers but the Everyone Poops based send up of the trailer for Spike Jonze's take on Where the Wild Things Are happened to tickle my fancy. Yes, I'm a bit juvenile but I have quite the soft spot for poo based humor. When one of my brothers gave my two year old niece the book Everyone Poops a year or so ago, it was quite obvious that my siblings and I enjoyed it on a much deeper level than she did. Truth be told, having a niece, has given us an excuse to let loose our juvenile sensibilities.

[My niece, wearing the Christmas present I bought for her]

I bring this up for another more important reason, however. You see, I was not lucky enough to have this most valuable book when I was a child. Thus, I was deprived of the all important pooping lessons it taught. It wasn't until I was 23 that I actually learned how to poop. Oh what a painful 23 years those were leading up to that glorious moment. To be honest, I don't know that I have yet mastered the art of pooping. They say that it is a skill that one must learn at a very early age in order to engage in it with any sort of proficiency. Hopefully, I can one day master this dark art. With that I leave you with the aforementioned trailer.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Pretty Poison (1968)

dir. Noel Black

"These fantasies of yours can be dangerous. Now you lay off that stuff...Believe me, Dennis, you're going out into a very real and very tough world. It's got no place at all for fantasies."
-Morton Azenauer

This week I've decided to take a small break from the evil killer children genre. [Not to worry, though, as I'll be back full force next week with another one of these gems.] Instead I opt for a film with slightly older protagonists, Noel Black's high school rebellion/lovers on the run picture Pretty Poison. With the popularity of 1967's Bonnie & Clyde, it was inevitable that imitators would soon arrive on the scene. Pretty Poison was an early attempt to jump on this cash cow band-wagon. Whereas Bonnie & Clyde took place in a not too distant, but still mythologized past, Black's film brought the proceedings to a wholesome present day small American town. He exposed the criminality lurking beneath the surface of even the most idyllic communities and in the guise of their most respected citizens.

Anthony Perkins stars as Dennis Pitt, a man with a mysterious past who was recently discharged from the laughin' academy. Starting life anew in a small New England town, he is given a job at the local mill. Just what this mill produces, aside from pollutants discharged into the local water supply, is not made entirely clear. It is of no importance to Pitt, however, as he frequently breaks into flights of fancy, imagining himself to be a secret agent sent here on a secret mission to sabotage the mill. Playing right into his plans is local high schooler Sue Ann Stepanek (Tuesday Weld). Getting caught up in his tales of espionage (or so it seems), she follows the lovestruck Pitt on his phony missions. After a sympathetic parole officer, Morton Azenauer (John Randolph), inadvertently loses Pitt his job when he lets slip to the young man's boss that Pitt committed arson as a child, Pitt takes Sue Ann on a nighttime mission to sabotage the mill.

Things take a dark turn when Sue Ann, caught by the mill's night guard, gleefully offs the mofo. Pitt, crazy in love, reluctantly follows her on her murderin' shenanigans, culminating with the killing of Sue Ann's slightly over-protective mother. What becomes apparent in the final third of the film is that Sue Ann, recognizing Pitt's insanity, has been using the dupe so that he can take the fall for her mom's murder. Perhaps as a result of life-long institutionalization, Pitt turns himself in for the matricide. Azenauer is not convinced that Pitt is at fault for this murder, however, and so visits him in the pen to ask him why he took the fall. Pitt speaks, elliptically, of a pretty poison, one that no one would think dangerous. If a certifiable man warned of this poison, no one would believe his rantings, no matter how vehemently he argued. This poison would have to be left to its own devices until it caused so much damage that its danger would be obvious to even the most skeptical observer. Thus the film's title. Incidentally, the studio came up with this title after it was decided that its initial choice, Bitches Be Crazy, gave away the twist ending.

And so Anthony Perkins put another notch in his playing-a-crazy-person belt. Forever associated with his career defining role in Psycho, try as he might, he couldn't escape Norman Bates' shadow. This inevitably led to many arguments with his agent.

"In Fear Strikes Out, I played a crazy ball player with daddy issues, in Psycho, I played a crazy motel owner with mommy issues, and here I'll play a crazy ex-arsonist with auntie issues."

"Exactly, it's a completely new role."

"Ever since Psycho, all I've been offered are these psychotic killer roles."

"Hey, you won't kill anyone in this picture."

"What are you talking about? My character's back-story is that, when he was a kid, he burned his aunt in her home. That's all kinds of fucked up."

"Yeah, but he didn't realize she was in the house. He didn't mean to kill her. It was just supposed to be some good old fashioned arson. Cold blooded murder was just a byproduct."

"I can't keep doing this. Do you realize how hard it is for me to get a date? I can't even say hi to a girl without getting maced."

"Cut the malarkey, Tony, we both know you're as queer as a three dollar bill."

"That's none of you're goddamned-"

Perkins' agent opened a desk drawer and pulled out a ragged old-lady dress. "Mrs. Bates, wouldn't you feel more comfortable in your Sunday best?"

"No you don't. You can't make me. I have my dignity."

The agent pulled out the Pretty Poison script. "Does someone wanna work? Does someone want a paycheck."

"Why can't I play a normal person?"

"You ain't actin' in nothin' else." The agent threw the dress at Perkins. "Dance, monkey, dance."

A defeated Perkins pulled the dress over his head and halfheartedly danced in place. With tears running down his face, the dejected actor muttered to himself, "This role will be different. I'll play a nice crazy person. A relatable crazy person. People will like this crazy person."

Of course, costar Tuesday Weld was also no stranger to typecasting. Gaining acclaim in the fifties, she perfected the teenage blond bombshell role in a series of films well into her twenties. The best of which was the funny, biting, moving, if dated, satire of (among other things) teenage comedies, Lord Love a Duck. Weld managed to defy the travails of typecasting as well as the archetype of the aging actress, however, in that, as time went on, she landed more diverse roles, with some of her juiciest parts (Thief, Once Upon a Time in America, Falling Down) coming near the end of her career. [Hopefully, Anna Faris' career will follow a similar path.] Although Weld later admitted dissatisfaction with Pretty Poison, mostly because of Noel Black's supposed inability to direct her, she no doubt jumped at the chance to play such a dark role, expanding her range.

Pretty Poison cleverly plays on her position as a teenage sexpot. Initially coming across as the bubbly all American girl next door, a more sinister side to her persona is eventually revealed. In fact, Weld's Sue Ann is more of a piece with the Noir femme fatales of the forties and early fifties. Much like Peggy Cummins' Annie Laurie Starr of Gun Crazy, Sue Ann pulls all the strings here. Playing the part of the naif, she allows Pitt the illusion that he is bending her to his will, when in fact she has been in charge at every step of the way. Incidentally, Sue Ann is also a perfect example of the typical Romantic Comedy leading lady. Oh what shenanigans will ensue when this free spirited girl tries to get some of the starch out of the stuffed shirt that is her new beau. When she helps him to see all that life has to offer. Parked car necking. Drug-fueled lakeside fucking. Cold blooded murder.

Compared with other "Lovers on the Run" stand outs from this era (Bonnie & Clyde, The Honeymoon Killers, Badlands), Pretty Poison is a relatively minor, if interesting, work. Like David Lynch's Blue Velvet many years later, Black's film brings the dark, sometimes disturbing world of noir home to the banality of small town America. Black also proved savvy with his choice of casting. Weld eschewed her teenage comedy reputation for a more sinister role. Perkins, although still playing crazy, is not the craziest person in this picture, a nice little twist.

[The groovy trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Friday, April 3, 2009

New Bruno Trailer Available

I'm sure many people are bored by Sacha Baron Cohen's schtick by now, but I'm really looking forward to this.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009