By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Kill the old ladies.
A lonely and overweight nurse by the name of Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler) meets and falls in love with the shady Raymond Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco) through a ‘lonely hearts’ club. As their relationship progresses he confides in her his practice of marrying women and then robbing them of their savings. She decides to get in on the scheme by posing as his sister. Together they roam the countryside and murder and rob lonely old ladies in this darkly humored tale that is based on actual events.
It is impossible to watch this film and not have actress Shirley Stoler imprinted on your mind forever after. The scenes of her working at the hospital make her seem like the ‘real’ Nurse Ratched. Lo Bianco is also perfectly cast in his role as Fernandez when one reads the actual account of the case the face and voice of Lo Bianco’s almost immediately comes to mind even before you’ve seen the film. His slow revelation at finding out just how vicious and cold Martha really is and that she ends up shocking even him is memorable. The crime sequences themselves are more like humorous vignettes. The lady victims are all humorously flawed and portrayed with such a variety of annoyances that you end up finding yourself looking forward at seeing them ‘get it’. The music played over the killings that starts out low as the crime begins and then builds to a loud and intense crescendo is terrific and the black and white cinematography nicely compliments the stark subject matter.
I was disappointed that although this is a story that is based on actual events for whatever reason the film is set in the present day when the actual events took place in the 1940’s.This was possibly done for budgetary reasons, but it would have made it much more authentic had it been kept in its proper time period. It would also have helped the viewer gain a little more understanding to the Martha Beck character had it given us more of a background on her. In real life Beck had been abused by her father and was also the mother of two children and yet the film never even mentions any of this.
The film wonderfully explores the twisted and sometimes pathetic nature of people in both the perpetrators and in the victims. This becomes much more than a simple reenactment of a true crime story and more like a dark expose of our fragmented world and the fringe characters that dwell in it.
Martin Scorsese was the film’s original director, but was fired early on due to creative differences. Leonard Kastle took on the reins and does a fine job. I like his grainy, cinema verite vision and it was a shame that this proved to be his only directorial effort
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: September 8, 1969
Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes
Studio: American International Pictures
Director: Leonard Kastle
Available: VHS, DVD (The Criterion Collection)