|The Lonely Hearts Killers|
|Written by Sal Ortega|
Ray Fernandez and his common-law wife, Martha Beck, were known as “The Lonely Hearts Killers.” Between 1947 and 1949, they were believed to have been responsible for the murder of 20 women. They posed as brother and sister while he romanced a series of women, ultimately killing them and often taking their property in confidence scams. Their brutal exploits have been the subject of three films and the basis of an episode of Cold Case.
The Honeymoon Killers, a 1970 film by Leonard Kastle, is many considered by many it to be an exploitation film. The opening credits claim to be an accurate portrayal of the events of the Lonely Hearts Killers but it has significant divergences from the real life story of Beck and Fernandez. Filmed in black and white, the movie has a distinctly low-budget feel to it, but its minimal presentation gives it an peculiar feel that defies placing it in any time period. The pacing moves from languid conversations between Beck and Fernandez and frantic explosions of violence, but the movie always has an intimate feeling. Overall, this movie is watchable but so heavily stylized that it is a bit trying to watch. It almost felt like a student film in many places.
Deep Crimson also tells the story of the Lonely Hearts Killers. A Spanish-language film from Mexico, released in 1996, this version of the story is a vast improvement over the The Honeymoon Killers. The scenery is lush and colorful, though the costuming seemed pretty generic. I watched a rather boring pan-and-scan dvd with no special features, my only real complaint with this film.
My favorite version of this fascinating tale is Lonely Hearts, the 2006 crime thriller. Raymond Fernandez is played by Jared Leto, and Martha Beck is played by the stunning Salma Hayek. The film’s director is the grandson of Detective Robinson (John Travolta) and several family mementos appear in the opening of the movie. The director’s love for his grandfather shows in this film’s depiction of the detective. Robinson comes across as a tenacious, intelligent man who is stirred from the depths of depression by a murder initially believed by his fellow detectives to be a suicide. Robinson’s partner, Detective Hildebrandt, is played with world-weariness by James Gandolfini. The classic pairing of a burned-out cynic and a veteran out to redeem himself has been done better but their performances are serviceable. The stand-out is Hayek’s cold, evil killer. We are so used to seeing her in positive, uplifting rolls that her performance as Beck is quite chilling.
The movie does creep along in some parts, making pacing a tad uneven. The stylized characterizations are functional and the visuals are also good but lack the impact that period pieces have delivered in the past. Selma Hayek’s costuming is marvelous, with vintage fashions showing off her incredible looks. Overall, I enjoyed the movie on its own merits; it was a good period crime thriller with some solid performances by veteran actors.
Of the three films, Lonely Hearts is my clear favorite. The Honeymoon Killers just didn’t do it for me, largely due to its pacing and its lack of period costuming. Deep Crimson fell somewhere in the middle of the enjoyment scale. Serial killers have long held our attention and this chapter in crime history makes for riveting entertainment.
The Honeymoon Killers Movie Trailer (1970)
Lonely Hearts Movie Trailer (2006)