Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler) is the head nurse at a Mobile, Alabama hospital. The overweight and sullen woman lives with her elderly mother (Dortha Duckworth). Martha’s friend Bunny (Doris Roberts) believes that Martha needs some companionship and decides to send her name into a Lonely-Hearts club. Martha is, at first, annoyed with her friend but eventually decides to join. She receives a flowery letter from a man named Raymond Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco). Ray says that he just joined the club and that she was the first person he wrote to. In reality Ray is a con man who wines and dines lonely women and then steals from them.
Martha and Ray correspond for a while. Eventually Ray visits Martha and she falls in love, but not before he cons her out of some money. When Ray tries to break it off with Martha, she and Bunny do a con of their own and convince Ray that she tried to commit suicide. Martha then visits Ray in New York where they begin a strange relationship. Martha learns about Ray conning women and begins to help him by posing as his sister. This puts many of the marks at ease. Martha is all in for the subterfuge as long as Ray doesn’t have sex with any of the marks.
Martha’s short temper and jealousy result in her killing one of the marks. Ray is not thrilled with killing but he is more than willing to participate if it means they end up with a payday at the end. As they continue their con more women end up dead. Martha’s jealous love for Ray ends up being their downfall.
“The Honeymoon Killers” was released in 1970 and was directed by Leonard Kastle, Martin Scorsese and Donald Volkman. It is a low budget American crime drama. The movie was loosely based on the true-life events of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, who were known as the “Lonely Hearts Killers” of the 1940’s.
Liberties were, of course, taken when it came to the plot of the movie. In reality it is believed that Ray had killed a woman named Jane Thompson and assumed the role of her widower before meeting Martha. American born Ray also had a wife and two children in Spain that he abandoned before moving back to America. Martha had also been divorced and had two children that she abandoned to move in with Ray. It is believed that they killed at least 17 people before they were caught.
It’s a very cold and stark movie. The fact that the budget was low so special effects were minimal actually adds a lot to the harshness of the story. Even the cinematography of the film is severe. This type of filmmaking was actually something I’ve seen before in movies from the late sixties. It’s not exactly a genre but the closest I can come to describing it is the true crime style of filming. That style is done here to perfection. The fact that the original murders happened in the forties and the props and scene dressing is full blown sixties doesn’t affect the supposed reality of the movie at all.
The relationship between Ray and Martha is a strange dynamic and one of mutual enabling. Ray can’t help but lie, even to Martha and Martha is a petulant child that needs Ray to prove that she can be desirable. Despite Ray’s bravado and Martha’s insecurities, when it comes to murder Martha takes the lead and Ray is a little on the squeamish side. Both characters are despicable in different ways, and both deserve to be miserable with each other.