Listening To Mantovani

I watched the 1969 film The Honeymoon Killers, based on the story of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck.

The tabloidish sensationalism of the intro is rather at odds with the quietly realistic style of this black&white tale of obsession, dependency, and violence.

Martha Beck is unhappy in her nursing job. In her first scene she has to deal with a troublemaking couple of younger workers who set off an explosion in a lab, and here we have at the outset the symbolism that a couple can be dangerous if brought together.

Tired of dealing with her senile mother, Beck is encouraged by her best mate to get in touch with a man posting Lonelyhearts messages from New York.

Raymond Fernandez turns out to be the love of her life. Of course at first he just sees her as another mark.

In the early stages of this production, a young director called Martin Scorsese was involved. Before he got fired he filmed a few scenes such as the one where Raymond is heading back to NewYork on the train:

In this version of events, Martha only has a mother to deposit in a geriatric home, and no children. Also in this version she keeps her relationship with Ray going by getting her friend to ring him with the news that she had attempted suicide. This causes the shift in the relationship, as she is brought in as a partner when she rolls up at the New York apartment, just as he is about to close out another operation on another unmarried woman elsewhere.

And so now we settle in to the long cruise across America, back-and-to between states whilst picking off fortunes from the sad and lonely. In this version we are shown that the increasing anxiety and resort to violence, whilst Beck becomes more subordinated to Fernandez, and more morose and robotic. In the final act she calls the cops herself and ploddingly goes down the stairs to greet them.

Although they share their names, these are very different people from the Beck & Fernandez revealed in the trial, not least because of the simplification of their family arrangements. In this telling they seem to be loners who never had a chance at a stable relationship, or in Ray’s case ever wanted one. In the extra features on disc it is mentioned that Fernandez suffered a head injury while travelling back to New York after the war, and it is suggested that slight brain damage may have altered his personality. However that’s a bit easy, and there could have been a longer, slower transformation during his war service. It does seem that he had fallen into a relationship with Beck that went beyond a working partnership, so she had succeeded in capturing him better than he had captured any of his own prey.

The extra features include contributions from surviving members of cast and crew, and also directors who have worked on alternative films about the couple. Todd Robinson directed Lonelyhearts (2006) which was apparently based on his granddad’s work as a detective on the case, and provided a chance for John Travolta to play a tough guy whose marriage is under strain because he’s doing a tough job of trying to bring some scumbags to justice. Fabrice Du Welz directed Alleluia (2014), which moved the story to Belgium in more recent time but kept the focus on a violent pair of ruthless exploiters trying to achieve a healthy work/life balance.

I first heard the title as it was taken for a song on Magazine’s 4th album Magic, Murder And The Weather. The lyrics also read like a very loose adaptation of the story, as there is no suggestion in the film that they listened to Mantovani. The soundtrack only has various works by Mahler used to underscore dramatic moments, though early on Ray makes an effort to dance to Martha’s mum’s record collection.

One thought on “Listening To Mantovani

  1. It’s interesting to see this film brought back into the light a little; time was, it was something of a cult favourite in the ‘Midnight Movie’ screenings across 70s America (Danny Peary’s first volume of Cult Movies has a fond appreciation of it, along with many others from the same time).

    It’s certainly one worthy of a view, and this piece conveys a lot of the reasons why. Good stuff!


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