A nurse and her gigolo lover lure lonely women into marriage, via lonely hearts' ads. Then before the ink has dried on the marriage certificate, the couple pounce and murder the unsuspecting bride for her life savings.
Though pre-produced by Martin Scorsese, who left the project after arguments with the producers, this wound up being written and directed by Leonard Kastle, who thus earned his place among the cinema’s great one-hit wonder filmmakers.
Based on a genuine crime case history from the late 1940s, it is filmed in the candid camera style of a Frederick Wiseman documentary, as intense scenes (the couple's frightening love play, escalating arguments that pay off with awkward killings, Beck’s arguments with her appalling mother) unfold with a fly‑on‑the‑wall blankness that shows off quite extraordinary acting from the leads and their cameo victims.
A rare film in which genuine romantic love does not excuse the central couple's amoral behaviour, this could almost be the anti-Bonnie and Clyde as it deglamorises thrill-killing for petty profit after decades of movies that have made outlawry glamorous. Stoler’s truly monstrous Martha, who looks like a humourlessly malevolent Roseanne Barr, may not be sympathetic, but she is at least understandable (the actress scored several decades of bit-parts as lesbian prison guards and grotesque brothel madames on the strength of this terrifying performance).
The washed‑out black and white photography and sometimes scratchy soundtrack (the score is sampled from Mahler) have a (deliberately?) amateurish feel, which adds to the film’s chilling memorability. Arturo Ripstein’s Mexican film Deep Crimson, based on the same true-life crimes, is a de facto remake, but takes a more stylised, conventional approach to the material. Todd Robinson’s Lonely Hearts, with Salma Hayek and Jared Leto, is a third version of the sordid story.
Shot in a grainy grey and white helps to give the film an amateurish and at the same time realistic feel, particularly as it's based on true events. With standout performances from Lo Bianco and Stoler, this is a forgotten gem that's waiting to be rediscovered.