THE HONEYMOON KILLERS (1969) – The Dungeon Review!
There is a strange and wonderful place called the library. They have books, CDs and movies and they are literally giving them away! Okay, not giving them away exactly; they do expect you to return them. I don’t know that every public library has the awesome selection that the Vancouver library has, but you might have an online system like we do. The online catalog combines the mighty force of every branch in the system and you choose to pick up at the location most convenient for you. All this, and it doesn’t cost a dime! I have no idea why more people don’t take advantage of this freaking spectacular service! The library is where I rented The Honeymoon Killers and the next three films I will be reviewing. Viva La library!
Ray is a grifter who uses the Lonely Hearts Club to woo women whom he than cons out of their savings. He meets a nurse named Martha who falls in love with him, but she has no money. She continues to aggressively pursue Ray who eventually relents, but only after he confesses to her what he does for a living. Clearly disturbed by the revelation she nonetheless professes her love to him. Martha begins to accompany Ray on his “jobs” posing as his sister. Martha is intensely jealous and it becomes a hindrance to Ray’s scams. Animosity grows between the couple with every victim and inevitably takes a turn for the worst.
What are we going to do with you Martha? I had empathy for Martha. She was a lonely woman living with her mother and was constantly berated about her weight. It was Martha’s mother whom suggested she join The Lonely Hearts Club. Martha is a hard as nails nurse, confident while on the job but lacking that confidence in other aspects of her life. She corresponds with Ray and the two eventually hook up. When Ray discovers Martha has no money I figured he was going to drop her like a hot potato but there is obviously something that appeals to him. He really had nothing to gain by being with her. In fact, Martha royally screws up Ray’s scams. There is one scene in particular where Martha almost drowns. Not only does Ray save Martha from drowning he treats her like a lover, apologizing profusely, holding and kissing her. He does so with no reservations as his most recent victim/fiancée looks on in horror. Ray for his part is a gigolo; he is handsome and confident. It seemed to me that Martha was more than just a lover to Ray. The needy Martha seemed to fill the roles of mother, sister and lover simultaneously. Needless to say, Ray and Martha have a complicated relationship. Jealously and passion is what eventually escalates grifting to murder.
The Honeymoon Killers is based on a true crime dubbed The Lonely Hearts Killers. Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck were both executed at Sing Sing prison for their crimes. The Criterion version I rented had a slideshow of pictures and facts about the real-life couple. There is a part of me that feels a little awkward stating that I have empathy for a character that is based on an executed criminal; not to mention Martha’s final crime is an utterly heinous one. The Honeymoon Killers is made in a very straight forward no nonsense way. The performances from Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco who play Martha and Ray are raw and real which gave the film an almost documentary feel. The Honeymoon Killers is not an action packed Bonnie and Clyde-esque story of a killer couple. Ray and Martha have long lingering conversations with each other and their victims. I have to tell you, some of Ray and Martha’s targets are pretty damn irritating people; not to say they deserved to die of course. It does however add some humour to the proceedings. This is as much a character study as an account of Ray and Martha’s crimes. While they certainly do not travel down the road of good intentions, murder was not a part of their plans. The first death in the film is actually unintentional. They put one woman on a bus after giving her a lot of pills and unbeknownst to the couple; she dies en route.
The candid conversations are a particularly appealing aspect of The Honeymoon Killers. It made me laugh when Martha commented to one of Ray’s fiancées who sighed a lot; “In nursing school I learned people who sigh a lot are unstable” (loosely quoted). Other moments are downright poignant. A scene where Ray comes to bed after the death of one of their grifts is asked by Martha if she should turn the lights out. He replies without emotion “Leave the light on. I want to make love.” The Honeymoon Killers is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and its final 20 minutes really packed a punch.
I enjoyed the hell out of The Honeymoon Killers. The stark black and white photography, the candid conversations, and the top notch turns from Tony Lo Bianco and Shirley Stoler. The Honeymoon Killers is a unique and unforgettable crime drama that comes highly recommended!
Dungeon Rating: 4/5
Directed By: Leonard Kastle
Starring: Shirley Stoler, Tony Lo Bianco, Mary Jane Higby, Doris Roberts, Kip McArdle, Marilyn Chris, Dortha Duckworth, Barbara Cason, Ann Harris, Mary Breen, Elsa Raven, Mary Engel, Guy Sorel, Michael Haley, Diane Asselin