Pretty Poison: Noel Black, Director of Cult Movie, Dies at 77

Noel Black, who directed the 1968 black comedy Pretty Poison, a cult hit despite a diverse critical response, died of bacterial pneumonia at a hospital in Santa Barbara, California on July 5. He was 77.

Starring Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld, “Pretty Poison” was adapted by Lorenzo Semple Jr. from Stephen Geller’s novel “She Let Him Continue.”

Perkins plays an arsonist who’s done his time and tries to win the affection of a pretty blond student, played by Weld. But despite a well-scrubbed facade, Weld’s character is in fact a psychopath, and soon the pair are committing a string of crimes, including homicide.

Twentieth Century Fox pulled the picture after weak box office, but when some critics championed the film, the studio re-released the movie, which began to pick up a cult following, a following that only grew with time.

It was released on DVD in 2006.

Black’s short about California skateboarders, “Skaterdater,” was nominated for an Oscar in 1966 and won the Palme d’Or for best short at the Cannes Film Fest the same year. “Skaterdater” and its plaudits drew the attention of executives at Fox executives, who chose Black to direct “Pretty Poison.”

Sam Waterston, Sondra Locke and Robert Forster starred in “Cover Me Babe” (1970), Black’s first film after “Pretty Poison,” which focuses on a film student keen on the avant-garde.

His next effort, 1971’s “Jennifer on My Mind,” was penned by Erich Segal, hot from having adapted his novel “Love Story” into a hugely successful film the year before.  The film was a flop.

Black then moved into television work, writing and directing episodic television, with credits such as “Kojak” and “Quincy, M.E.” He also helmed an adaptation of Sherwood Anderson’s “I’m a Fool” for PBS’ “The American Short Story.”

He returned to the big screen for the caper comedy A Man, a Woman and a Bank, starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams and Paul Mazursky.

Born in Chicago, Black went to UCLA, where he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in film.  Black was married twice, to Sandra MacPhail and Catherine Cownie.