The Honeymoon Killers (Leonard Kastle / U.S., 1969):

First and foremost, a love story. The opening sets the combustible timbre -- a reverse tracking shot down the hospital corridor, a brief pan and a zoom follow without pause an explosion in one of the rooms. The rotund frump (Shirley Stoler) tentatively takes up lonely-hearts correspondence, her beau (Tony Lo Bianco) turns out to be a balding "Latin from Manhattan" gigolo who specializes in separating biddies from their funds; they get married and continue bilking women, she poses as his sister and adds murder to the proceedings. Fin-de-décennie American suburbia is "one little jail after another with 10 feet of grass between them," the victims comprise a scabrous travesty of blinkered middle-class womanhood: Premature spinsters, knocked-up bachelorettes and dotty widows, all seeking escape from solitude and getting poisoned, throttled and shot for their trouble. Leonard Kastle seized the tabloid case of plug-ugly criminals as a rebuke to Bonnie and Clyde’s sham lyricism, and his vehement denunciation of "beautiful" shots -- more Frederick Wiseman than Diane Arbus -- is bracing. A pregnant belle drugged and left to expire on a bus, the crunch of a hammer blow to an old woman’s night-capped skull: Not the exhilaration of violence, but its clumsiness and ludicrousness. Kastle is a born filmmaker with an uncanny feeling for the startling close-up and the excruciating long-take, Edgar G. Ulmer would have applauded his mise en scène of light bulbs and cellar burials. Stoler’s fleshy fury and Lo Bianco’s Ricky Ricardoisms provide the "ammonia and chlorine" fuel, shabby and heightened and superbly attuned to Mahler’s vertigos. (Kastle started in opera.) The couple's downfall is filmed under the unmistakable influence of Baudelaire’s Madrigal Triste ("You cannot, slave and queen/ Who love me only with terror/ In the unhealthy night’s horror/ Say to me, your soul full of cries/ ‘I am your equal, O my King!'"), and makes you regret that Stoler never got to play Medea. With Doris Roberts, Mary Jane Higby, Marilyn Chris, Kip McArdle, Dortha Duckworth, and Barbara Cason. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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