The Honeymoon Killers (1969)
Directed by Leonard Kastle
This spirited indie shows how another half of America lived—the people on the fringes of small cities across the country, from Pittsfield to Albany, Mobile to Valley Stream. Its characters are the lonely, the frumpy, the unmarriable, the sort of unglamorous people who’d hardly been seen on an American screen, let alone in a love story, since Marty. Its tawdry subject is true crime homicide, like Roger Corman’s C-movie Bloody Mama, but it’s artier, with long takes often focused on action most other directors would leave offscreen. The script was based on the trial transcripts of “The Lonely Hearts Killers,” a pair of lovers who found victims through personal ads and mail-order matchmakers; they both died, as gaga as ever, like the OG Mickey and Mallory, in 1951—in the electric chair at Sing Sing.
Kastle wrote the script and took over the directing, too, after Scorsese was fired a week into filming. (At least one scene he shot remains in the film.) Kastle intended the movie as a critical response to Bonnie and Clyde and its romantic violence, as pretty as its beddable stars. He subverts every Hollywood shibboleth: the movie has a plus-size leading lady (a riveting Shirley Stoler, so crotchety she all but kicks neighborhood dogs) and a thickly accented leading man (God Told Me To’s Tony LoBianco, full of equatorial ardor and arm hair), and together they make a mockery of marriage with everything they do. They don’t even respect religion, as when they laugh while tossing an old lady’s Jesus portraits into a hole with her corpse. And it’s shot in dowdy black-and-white—suck on that, Arthur Penn!
Kastle, an opera composer turned one-time filmmaker because his roommate was a TV producer, lets the violence develop slowly, so when it happens, it’s more shocking and morally repugnant. I mean, sure, the victims are (intentionally) all red-state types wrapped in American flags, killed by a couple of with an insatiably uber-American desire for cash—facts in which at least Kastle and some leftist critics took pleasure—but he still makes you feel the barbarity of it, especially with one shot that stays on a victim’s darting, petrified eyes as she watches her captors prepare to kill her. The all-Mahler soundtrack, mostly from his sixth symphony, adds awesome gravitas. Henry Stewart (April 13, 29, 1:30pm at MoMA’s “Six New York Independents”)