I was afraid I was going to see Anthony Perkins do just another version of Norman Bates in this, but due to one of the interesting changes to the movie script Dennis Pitt is not only fully aware of his fantasy life of being a CIA agent he shares those weird stories and fantasies with everyone. So in the opening scene where we see him meeting with his parole officer for the first time (a scene not in the book) he is playing with Azenauer and teasing him. Dennis makes fun of his apparent diagnosis of mental illness with a story of aliens being responsible for polluting the town's water supply. Azenauer then cautions him about indulging in those wild stories. He's supposed to be rehabilitated and ready for the real world now. Dennis smirks, tosses off the advice, and heads out to start his new life.
Immediately afterward he sees Sue Anne for the first time and is entranced. She happens to be dressed as a drum majorette and is inexplicably marching down the street with her high school marching band. This image allows for a recurring musical motif throughout the movie that signals Dennis is daydreaming and drifting off into his private world. The marching band also adds a surreal element that will pervade the movie tying into Dennis' refusal to commit to entering the real world despite all the advice given to him by his landlady, parole officer and other adults.
The strength of the movie is in the scenes between Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins. They have an fascinating chemistry together. Weld seems like an easily impressed, easily manipulated teenage girl sick of adults and her homelife and craving adventure. She oozes enthusiasm and cheerfulness but is never cloying or stupid. There are sly hints about what she's really up to if you already know the ending. It was fascinating to see her play the subtext in the early part of the movie. What I didn't think was a wise choice was to turn her into another two-timing noir temptress.
The film devolves into a series of histrionic scenes beginning with arrest of Dennis at the hands of some hysterical policemen and ending with Sue Anne in the police station revealing that she turned him in. In the book Dennis makes this decision to call the police and confess to the crime himself because he finally realizes that he will never fit into the real world and wants to do the right thing by sparing the girl he has fallen in love with. Yet no matter how hard he tries to be believable he's still treated as if he's a lunatic. It's more effective and tragic than having him become a victim of Sue Anne's devilish betrayal.
In fact Dennis is made to out to be a cowering baby when it comes to actually doing something deadly. Perkins quivers and gives us his wide-eyed innocent looks while Weld laughs and giggles and is turned on by all the violence done mostly at her hands. Too many scenes in the original story where Dennis is complicit in the violence are removed. Weld's Sue Anne is turned into a cackling psycho in the climactic murder scene collapsing into laughter on her bed surrounded by the framed ballet dancers and flowery wallpaper of her girly bedroom. An unsettling scene for sure, but to my mind not really right for Geller's intended themes.
|John Randolph (right) as Azenauer, more of a father|
figure than a parole officer