The Honeymoon Killers Criterion Collection Blu-ray review
Martha Beck works as a nurse in Mobile, Alabama. At the end of her shift, she walks home, kicking a child’s wheelbarrow out of her path. She’s a miserable, obese woman who lives with her mother and whose greatest joy may come from a bag of pretzels. Even her best friend (Doris Roberts, who may be best known as Marie Barone on EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND) acknowledges how lonely she is and submits her name to a lonely hearts service. “What have you got to lose?”
The gain comes from Raymond Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco, who would next appear in 1971’s THE FRENCH CONNECTION and later Larry Cohen’s GOD TOLD ME TO), who writes Martha (Shirley Stoler, in her debut; her next feature would be Alan J. Pakula’s KLUTE) a suave note while sitting in front of a collection of framed women. They exchange a series of letters before he visits. From there, they get off to a demented start, with con games and fake suicide attempts. Ah, to be in love!
Soon after it’s agreed that there is nothing wrong with scamming women out of money, Raymond and Martha team up to make enough dough to set them up for life. But, of course, situations get a little hairy, and, well, they’re called The Honeymoon Killers for a reason…
THE HONEYMOON KILLERS is based on a true story, “based on newspaper accounts and court records” (although this has been questioned) surrounding The Lonely Hearts Killers, who lured and killed a collection of women in the span of two years and met the electric chair in 1951. THE HONEYMOON KILLERS doesn’t depict this (their incarceration is left to a prologue, while their deaths is mentioned on a title card), but it does offer a number of scenes that will satisfy those looking to catch a few deaths, whether as a result of drugs, hammers or guns.
THE HONEYMOON KILLERS is a relatively quiet movie that, structurally, feels inept and even at times wholly unprofessional (the ending is abrupt and, to a degree, unsatisfying, considering the audience could have heard Raymond and Martha’s final words: “I wanna shout it out; I love Martha! What do the public know about love?” and “My story is a love story, but only those who are tortured by love can understand what I mean,” respectively.). This could be because it is directed by Leonard Kastle, who had no experience directing and, perhaps rightly, never got behind a camera again. (Kastle replaced Martin Scorsese, who at that point only had 1967’s WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR to his credit, sometime after production began.)
Despite its consistent flaws, THE HONEYMOON KILLERS is a uniquely askew love story that works on certain levels, one of which is as a sedated, humorless version of EATING RAOUL, Paul Bartel’s black comedy released a dozen years after this movie. Another is as a curiously accidental take on trashy sensationalism.
Video: 1.85:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner from the original 35 mm camera negative. It was restored at FilmRestore in Hyderaad, India.”
Despite the low production values, THE HONEYMOON KILLERS looks quite nice in this high-definition transfer, which features excellent contrast, fine details and a layer of grain that will please film purists.
Audio: English Mono. “The original monaural soundtrack as remastered at 24-bit from the 35 mm magnetic track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX 4.”
The dialogue and soundtrack come through without detectable flaw.
Leonard Kastle (29:38): In this 2003 interview, Kastle discusses his career as a composer, how he came to direct his only feature, researching the story, the cast and much more.
Love Letters (24:59): In this 2015 program, actors Tony Lo Bianco and Marilyn Chris and editor Stan Warnow sit down separately to discuss the production and legacy of THE HONEYMOON KILLERS.
“Dear Martha” (22:56): This video essay by Scott Christianson (author of Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House) features documents related to the real Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is an essay by critic Gary Giddins.