“No woman’s going to support me!”
An overweight nurse (Shirley Stoler) falls in love with a gigolo (Tony Lo Bianco) she meets through a Lonely Hearts club, and soon begins posing as his sister on trips to bilk lonely women — but how long can they get away with their scheme, especially when it turns murderous and Stoler’s jealousy is provoked?
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Black Comedy
- Criminal Couple On the Run
- Homicidal Spouses
- Serial Killers
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “unusual, violent sleeper is [both] a chilling reenactment of the grisly ‘Lonely Hearts’ murders that drew national attention in the late forties”, and a “fascinating, semi-comical examination of the true-life delirious romance between an ill-tempered, sexually frustrated 200-pound nurse named Martha Beck (well played by Shirley Stoler, who resembles her) and her speciously charming and handsome but not-so-smart Spanish lover, gigolo Ray Fernandez (a marvelous performance by Tony Lo Bianco).” He notes that the “film is cleverly scripted; has several odd yet interesting characters; probes America’s pathetic ‘lonely hearts’ subculture; and is one of the few ‘criminal couple-on-the-run’ movies that neither romanticizes the crimes (the murders are extremely shocking) nor glamorizes the criminals.” He points out that “director-writer Leonard Kastle was more interested in the relationship between the jealous Beck (who pretended to be Fernandez’s sister) and her unfaithful lover than in their crimes, but while he believed their love for each other was their one redeeming quality, it was not enough to fully redeem them after their murders.”
Peary argues that while “the direction by newcomer Kastle… is amateurish at times”, it “is quite innovative when it counts”: he “uses the camera skillfully so that we are aware of settings and spatial relationships”, such as creating “a sense of claustrophobia by placing Lo Bianco, his new romantic conquest, and huge Stoler in a tiny space so that they drive each other crazy.” Kastle gives his actors “free reign to create broad characters”, resulting in “several strong performances” — and he “uses the music of Gustav Mahler effectively, at times to counterpoint the triviality of what is happening on the screen.” Peary elaborates on all aspects of his praise for (and analysis of) this film in his first Cult Movies book, making it clear that “one-hit-wonder” Kastle was quite the polymath talent. It’s too bad for film fanatics that he never made another movie — music (opera in particular) was his first love — but in the meantime, we can appreciate (while shuddering in horror) the gruesome real-life “opera” he puts on for us here.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Tony Lo Bianco as Ray
- Shirley Stoler as Martha
- Strong supporting performances
- Oliver Wood’s cinematography
Yes, as a true cult classic.
One thought on “Honeymoon Killers, The (1970)”
A must-see – and a film that benefits from repeat viewings, for those interested in studying its depiction of criminal behavior. The film itself is a marvel of independent filmmaking – with top-notch performances by its entire cast (esp. Stoler and Lo Bianco) and strong direction and camerawork.
I’ve probably seen this film about 10 times (over the years) and have just rewatched it. That may sound like a reflection of morbid fascination – but, for me, it isn’t. It just happens to be a very rare, in-depth exploration of a criminal case rooted in ‘love’. (Not even Arthur Penn’s ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ is this detailed.)
If you read the Wikipedia entry on the film, you discover that most of what is presented on-screen is rather accurate (although a few things were left out or altered). The major difference involved one aspect of the conclusion: Martha did not ultimately decide to call the police herself to report the killings; instead, a neighbor reported strange behavior re: the latest victims.
But, again, it’s the study of the central relationship that grabs the viewer most – and the details are subtly drawn. For example: my mother was a nurse but she never really talked with me about other nurses. However, I once met a nurse who *did*. She told me it was not uncommon to come across a nurse who was the polar opposite of the nurturing type; in other words, a control freak who ‘enjoyed’ patients who were under the thumb. ~which sort of fits Martha and explains (at least as presented in the film) her growing sociopathic nature.
It also explains how she could end up being Ray’s ‘perfect partner’. As played by Lo Bianco, Ray is a coward (his macho bravado notwithstanding). He’s gung-ho for sex (almost anytime) but he’s skittish when it comes to the murders. (He actually cries like a baby the one time Martha forces him to help her.) The act of murder appears to repulse him. Note Lo Bianco’s behavior when Stoler is in the cellar, killing the child: he is frozen in terror.
Ray also seems to be (understandably, for his character) very much under Martha’s spell. And it seems like they *both* know that, for them, murder was an aphrodisiac. This becomes particularly creepy when, after the murder Ray takes equal part in, he showers and then presents himself to Martha seductively and naked, walking slowly towards her until he stands before her like a meek but manly sacrificial lamb. Martha asks him if he wants the lights off and he says no: “I want to make love.”
Not enough can be said re: how Stoler and Lo Bianco took on these roles and ran with them. They’re as remarkable as they are frightening (all the more so when you consider that there’s nothing particularly frightening about how they conduct themselves most of the time).
Some have noted the film’s comical element – and, yes, it’s occasionally there throughout. But perhaps the only time we don’t feel guilty about laughing comes early on, a scene in which Martha’s sister (rather hilariously played by Doris Roberts) plays along with Martha on the phone, as they convince Ray that Martha is so in love with him that she attempted suicide.
I don’t agree with Peary that director Kastle’s work is amateurish. Quite the opposite: scene for scene, the film appears to exude confidence. It’s unclear how much of that is due to Kastle and how much credit goes to Oliver Wood (who went on to a long career as a DP, continuing to today). But, considering that Kastle more or less fell into writing the screenplay and then fell into becoming the film’s director, it’s rather astonishing how clear and precise his vision was.
~and economic as well, esp. in the dialogue – filling each scene with plot-driven talk (“I want my two best girls to stop arguing this very minute.”). It’s not at all surprising that Kastle’s main love was opera. There is definitely something very opera-esque in his only film (esp. with Mahler on the soundtrack throughout!).
As the IMDb informs us… Kastle was often asked why he never made another film, and explained: “I have six or seven screenplays, and maybe something will happen. But one thing I can always say–and not every director can say this–I never made a bad film after ‘Honeymoon Killers’.”