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Honeymoon Killers, The

The Criterion Collection // R // September 29, 2015
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted September 30, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Based on the real life exploits of Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez, Leonard Kastle's sole directorial effort, 1969's The Honeymoon Killers holds up well and has remained an intriguing cult film over the years thanks in no small part to the fact that it's been released on DVD and now on Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection.

The film starts off in Mobile, Alabama where it introduces us to Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler), an overweight spinster of sorts who works as a nurse at the local hospital and who lives with her elderly mother (Dortha Duckworth). Martha's not a particularly social woman and given that she tends to keep to herself, she seems to be perpetually single. This bothers her enough that, with some nudging from her friend Bunny (Doris Roberts), she places an advertisement in Aunt Carrie's Friendship Club, a lonely hearts type of publication mean to let people like Martha meet that ‘special someone.' Before you know it, she and a Hispanic named Ray Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco) are writing letters back and forth and he comes to visit her. She loans him some money, he splits and then breaks it off. Eventually, after pretending to commit suicide, he agrees to meet up together in New York City. There, Martha can't help but fall for Ray… until she finds out what he does for a living.

Ray is a gigolo and a very specialized on at that. He doesn't just turn trick like a common streetwalker but rather he manages to earn the trust of aging single women and then quickly con them out of everything they own. Martha, however, doesn't let this get in the way of being with the one she loves. Before you know it, she's thrown her mother into a nursing home and hit the road with Ray. They're going to make some easy money. She'll pose as his sister and help him land the gigs he needs and then, once they have enough, they'll head to Florida to live a life of luxury, or so Martha believes. Of course, once Ray starts using the tools of his trade his beloved can't help but get jealous, and once Martha gets jealous. When Ray offers to marry one of his clients, Martha poisons her with an overdose of sleeping pills which sets into motion a killing spree…

Originally intended to be directed by none other than Martin Scorsese, The Honeymoon Killers may wear its low budget on its sleeve but don't let that dissuade you. This is a pretty believable take on the real life crimes that inspired it (even if it does take more than a few liberties with the facts), and it does a great job of mixing some genuine shocks with effective moments of darkly comic character interactions. At the same time, the quick pacing and free-wheeling nature of the movie keeps things going at a good clip. While the focus of the movie is very much on the relationship and the dynamic that develops between the two leads, there's enough happening outside of that to make this love story more of a twisted whirlwind than you'd probably expect if you were going in blind (and, um, ignored the title… which does kind of give away the fact that these two are killers).

The performances here are very strong. Dortha Duckworth and Doris Roberts are fine in their supporting roles but not surprisingly it's Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco who do most of the heavy lifting here. You feel sorry for Martha at first, which is very much intentional, and Stoler does a great job of making her both believable and sympathetic. Lo Bianco, on the other hand, is set up as a player right from the start (when we see him writing his letters to Martha he's surrounded by pictures of different women he's been with). He's all sly charm and good looks and you know immediately she's going to fall for him and he's going to use her. Once they get over that initial hurdle and become a bit of a team, however, things get interesting and we get a chance to see these two performers make their characters into more than just stereotypes. They have great chemistry together, whether they're talking about their love or working together to get rid of a body, you feel for them in strange ways. Of course, a relationship built on lies can't last forever and we know Tony has been telling her line after line from the get-go, but still… you are left feeling that in his own way he cares for her.

The Blu-ray:


The Honeymoon Killers arrives on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed in its original aspect ratio of 1.85.1 widescreen from a new restoration of a demonstrates near perfect contrast while detail is, aside from a few scenes that just weren't shot as crisply as the others, outstanding. Black levels are nice and deep but the transfer is free of crush and compression artifacts while texture is frequently very impressive as well. The cleaned up image is free of any major print damage and there are no problems with any noise reduction or edge enhancement issues. This is a substantial upgrade over the previous DVD releases and fans of the film should be more than pleased with how this has turned out.


The only audio option for the feature is an English language LPCM Mono track. While depth and range are limited by the original source material, there are no problems with clarity or balance. Dialogue is always easy to understand and the single channel mix is free of any hiss or distortion. Optional English closed captioning is provided.


The bulk of the extras on this release are spread across three featurettes, the first of which is a half hour long interview with the film's late director, Leonard Kastle. Here he speaks about how and why this project came to be, the casting decisions, why certain scenes are shot the way they're shot and how he feels this film compares to other, similar crime films made around the same time. Also worth checking out is a twenty-five minute featurette called Love Letters which interviews cast members Tony Lo Bianco and Marilyn Chris and editor Stan Warnow about their experiences working on the movie and about their thoughts on its legacy and enduring popularity. They also touch on the real crimes that inspired the film. Author Scott Christianson contributes a twenty-five minute long video essay entitled Dear Martha that does a great job of explaining the history of Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez, the couple whose crimes inspired the film. There are a lot of interesting archival photographs and documents used here to illustrate various points and it makes for a very interesting addition to the disc.

Aside from that we get a theatrical trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection. Inside the Blu-ray case along with the disc is a full color fold out insert booklet that contains credits for the feature and the disc as well as an essay from Gary Giddins entitled The Broken Promise that offers up some interesting thoughts on the film,

Final Thoughts:

The Honeymoon Killers is compelling, thought provoking and exciting cinema. It's really well shot in its own loose way and the performances are strong across the board. The movie is fast paced and exciting but not at the cost of character development and Criterion have done an excellent job bringing the film to Blu-ray. The transfer is fantastic, the audio very strong and the extras consistently interesting. Highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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Highly Recommended

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