Honeymoon Killers, The

Director: Leonard Kastle

The best film Martin Scorsese failed to make is this remarkable one-off by Leonard Kastle, a composer and director of operas who wrote the script for The Honeymoon Killers and took over directing when Scorsese was fired from the project. Despite working with a small budget, Kastle came up with a highly imaginative approach to the true story of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, a con-man and his lover who prey on vulnerable women they contact through the lonely hearts columns. The pair make for a lethal combination when they operate as a brother-sister team, with Ray’s philandering and Martha’s jealousy leading to a string of gruesome murders. Treating the case as a bizarre tale of amour fou, Kastle assembled an excellent cast (Tony Lo Bianco and Shirley Stoler are outstanding as the murderous lovers) and devised a sophisticated visual plan involving an elaborate yet precise use of camera movement, framing and lighting. Add an inspired use of carefully selected extracts for the work of Gustav Mahler on the soundtrack, and the results make for a daring aesthetic experiment that’s far removed from the kind of exercise in exploitation that the film was marketed as on its first release. Highly praised by François Truffaut and voted one of the most underrated American films in a 1970s poll of European critics, Kastle’s unique film deserves better than its status as a curiosity that spawned a minor cult.
U.S.A., 1969. Black and white. 108 mins.

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