- The Honeymoon Killers movie review: Director-screenwriter Leonard Kastle’s low-budget crime drama rivals costlier, better-known fare. Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco star as two lovebirds who take to the road to follow their – ultimately blood-soaked – American Dream.
The Honeymoon Killers movie review: Leonard Kastle’s cult crime drama features stellar work by Shirley Stoler & Tony Lo Bianco
From the moment we hear Gustave Mahler’s blood-and-thunder music in the opening scene of screenwriter-director Leonard Kastle’s The Honeymoon Killers, this low-budget, real-life-based 1970 thriller and its cast of then little-known players take off.
Making her feature film debut at age 40, Shirley Stoler plays corpulent Alabamian hospital nurse Martha Beck, who finds love – of a sort – by joining a lonely-hearts correspondence club: Her ad is answered by New York gigolo Raymond (Ray) Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco), in the business of marrying lonely women, taking their money, and abandoning them.
And yet the two miscreants fall in love.
Martha sticks her senile mother (Dortha Duckworth) in a nursing home so she can accompany her new lover in his business ventures by posing as his sister. Ray, for his part, goes about marrying – or promising to marry – a series of desperate women.
One problem: Martha becomes insanely jealous of the attention the women place on her man, eventually taking their crime spree to new heights by murdering Ray’s prospective wives.
Leonard Kastle – who replaced Martin Scorsese behind the camera early on in the production – elicits remarkable performances out of his actors.
Shirley Stoler plays the possessive, tough-talking Martha with sharp understatement, while Tony Lo Bianco’s unctuous Lothario struts like a peacock and brags flamboyantly.
Also of note, the delightful Doris Roberts (of the TV series Remington Steele and Everybody Loves Raymond) delivers a competent performance as the perky caregiver assisting Martha’s mother.
Fascinatingly perverse relationship
As played by Stoler and Lo Bianco, the perverse relationship between the two leads is fascinating.
Once Martha insinuates herself as Ray’s “sister,” the couple rob their target and make love while the victim is in another room.
Now, it’s particularly curious that they pretend to be siblings when one considers that Ray has such a thick Hispanic accent – remember, Martha is from Alabama – and that they smother each other with affection like no brother and sister would do.
A huge help throughout the criminal proceedings is the black-and-white cinematography by relative newcomer Oliver Wood (Fantastic Four, The Bourne Ultimatum), which perfectly illustrates the opening statement that The Honeymoon Killers is a “true story.” In fact, everything about the film has a docudrama look and feel, including its wholly naturalistic dialogue.
The Honeymoon Killers doesn’t get truly violent until several grisly murders at the end, when things don’t go quite as planned.
As with the approach – much criticized in some quarters – found in Arthur Penn’s 1967 blockbuster Bonnie and Clyde, Leonard Kastle wanted his audience to sympathize with the outlaws. We know Martha and Ray do love each other and for that reason we’re almost sorry when they finally meet their fate.
So what if there was a trail of bodies left in their wake?
Perhaps if Martha had just stuck to her nursing profession and Ray had gotten a job as a car mechanic, they could have had a happy ending.
The Honeymoon Killers (1970)
Direction & Screenplay: Leonard Kastle.
Cast: Shirley Stoler. Tony Lo Bianco. Mary Jane Higby. Doris Roberts. Kip McArdle. Marilyn Chris. Dortha Duckworth. Barbara Cason.
“The Honeymoon Killers Movie (1970): Perverse Liaisons + Grisly Murders” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“The Honeymoon Killers (1970) Movie Review” endnotes
‘The Lonely Hearts Killers’
After their arrest for a series of crimes/murders between 1947 and 1949, Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez became known in the tabloidized American media as “The Lonely Hearts Killers.”
The couple was executed in the electric chair in March 1951 at Sing Sing in New York.
Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco The Honeymoon Killers movie image: Cinerama Releasing.
“The Honeymoon Killers Movie (1970): Perverse Liaisons + Grisly Murders” last updated in October 2021.