The Great Villain Blogathon 2016: True Crime Folie à deux: In Cold Blood (1967) & The Honeymoon Killers (1969)

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It’s here again! THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON 2016!

One of the most dread inspiring Blogathons, featuring a slew of memorable cinematic villains, villainesses & anti-heroes… Thanks to the best writers of the blogosphere Kristina of Speakeasy, Ruth of Silver Screenings and Karen of Shadows and Satin!

Folie à deux (/fɒˈli ə ˈduː/; French pronunciation: [fɔli a dø]; French for “a madness shared by two”), or shared psychosis, is a psychiatric syndrome in which symptoms of a delusional belief and hallucinations are transmitted from one individual to another.

a·mour fou (ämo͝or ˈfo͞o)

1. uncontrollable or obsessive passion.

“The puzzle and threat of random violence is one of the defining tropes of true-crime”-Jean Murley

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Scott Wilson as Dick Hickock and Robert Blake as Perry Smith
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The real killers Perry Smith and Richard ‘Dick’ Hickock

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In Cold Blood (1967) is director Richard Brooks (The First Time I Saw Paris 1954, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 1958, Elmer Gantry 1960) masterpiece of modern nightmarish nihilistic ‘horror of personality’.

The film went on to receive four Academy Award nominations: Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Original Music Score, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Columbia studios actually wanted Paul Newman and Steve McQueen to play the roles and wanted it shot in color. Newman went on to do Cool Hand Luke that year and McQueen starred in The Thomas Crown Affair and Bullitt in 1968. Thank god Brooks got his way and got to do his treatment in Black & White, on location and with lesser known actors, who both went on to earn Oscar nominations for their chilling performances of the murderous pair.

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Robert Blake, Scott Wilson and director Richard Brooks on location for In Cold Blood (1967)
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Author Truman Capote and director/screenwriter Richard Brooks

Life Magazine NIghtmare Revisted

A post-war true crime thriller, what author Elliot Leyton terms Compulsive Killers: The Story of Modern Multiple Murder, the film is steeped in expressive realism about two thugs Robert Blake as Perry Smith a dark and damaged swarthy angel of death & Scott Wilson  (In the Heat of the Night 1967, The Gypsy Moths 1969, The New Centurions 1972, The Great Gatsby 1974, The Right Stuff 1983) as Dick Hickock, who inspire in each other a sense of anti-establishment negativity.

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These two drifters, having heard about a wealthy wheat farmer from a fellow inmate, think there is a safe in the house filled with $10,000. The two dark souls take siege upon the rural Holcolmb Kansas Clutter family in the middle of the night, hog tie them, look for the money, only to find this clean cut humble family has nothing to steal but $43, a bible and pasteurized milk in the icebox. The two proceed to shot gun murder and cut the throats of the entire household so there are… “No witnesses.” Dick Hickock. There are two surviving daughters, Beverly and Eveanna that were spared this horror.

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Robert Blake as Perry Smith, John Forsythe plays Alvin Dewey head of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Scott Wilson as Dick Hickock… being brought in…

John Forsythe plays Alvin Dewey head of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation who goes on the hunt collecting clues and tracking down the killers involved in this sensational crime.

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Alvin Dewey (John Forsythe) Reporter Bill Jensen (Paul Stewart) who writes for the weekly magazine. Reporter Jensen tells Dewey that it’s a strange co incidence that Herb Clutter writes his first insurance check and that the policy paid $40,000 which pays a double indemnity of $80,000. Dewey-“You’re not here to write something new, what is your interest?” Jensen “Fairly basic” Dewey-“What’s basic about a stupid senseless crime… A violent unknown force destroys a decent ordinary family.” Jensen-“No clues, no logic. Makes us all feel frightened, vulnerable” Dewey- “Murders’ no mystery. Only the motive…{…} Someday, somebody will explain to me the motive of a newspaper. First, you scream, “Find the bastards.” Till we find them, you want to get us fired. When we find them, you accuse us of brutality. Before we go into court, you give them a trial by newspaper. When we finally get a conviction, you want to save them by proving they were crazy in the first place.”
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In this semi-documentary police procedural post noir crime thriller Alvin Dewey studies the bloody boot print left at the Clutter murder scene.

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Dewey tracks down these two bad boys, who have fled to Mexico where Perry (Robert Blake) loses himself in fantasies and painful flashbacks of his childhood with a violent father, whoring mother, of buried treasure, and prospecting for gold. Dick (Scott Wilson) gets tired out languishing around listening to Perry’s dreams and convinces him to head back to the States, passing bad checks along the way and winding up in Las Vegas. The police finally catch up with the murderous anti-social duo, where the men are finally broken of their alibi, and they are sentenced to die by ‘the big swing’ hanging.

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Alvin Dewey takes Perry back to the night of the terrible crime…

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Mrs Clutter calmly asks –“Please don’t hurt the children”

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Dick-“Make one move, holler once and we’ll cut their throats.”

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Herbert Clutter: “Why do you boys want to do this? Dick: “Shut up!”
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Perry-“Floyd Wells lied to you. There isn’t any safe.”
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Perry morbidly superstitious and brooding, while Dick entertains a working girl in the bed across the room, has flashbacks to the night his father (Charles McGraw) finds his drunken whoring mother playing around. Perry’s father proceeds to beat her in front of him and his siblings. Painting a picture of Perry Smith’s traumatic beginnings.

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Flashback to Perry as a little boy.

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Some scenes after Mexico…

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In Cold Blood… not quite the kitschy romance and allure of John Schlesinger’s wandering pair in the outré slick Midnight Cowboy (1969) starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight.

on the streets passing bad checks

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In the clothing store, Dick who often refers to Perry as hon or some such affectionate diminutive–wipes the sweat off Perry’s brow and says “Easy baby… look casual.”
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the charming and fast talking Dick passing bad checks around
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Perry tells Dick- “You’re good you’re really good. Smooth. No sweat no strain You’re an artist boy.”
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buying supplies for the robbery/murder
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Dick: “Did you see those guys? They coulda robbed us!” Perry: “What of?” Perry: “That was stupid – stealin’ a lousy pack of razor blades! To prove what?” Dick: “It’s the national pastime, baby, stealin’ and cheatin’. If they ever count every cheatin’ wife and tax chiseler, the whole country would be behind prison walls.”

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Perry is superstitious he watches the nuns with a sense of foreboding… it’s a lurking bad omen for sure.
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stealing cars and changing plates

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Holcomb, Kan., Nov. 15 [1959] (UPI) — A wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and their two young children were found shot to death today in their home. They had been killed by shotgun blasts at close range after being bound and gagged… There were no signs of a struggle, and nothing had been stolen. The telephone lines had been cut.
The New York Times

Perry Smith led by police into the Garden City Kansas courthouse on Jan. 6 1960 charged with first degree murder
the real Perry Smith led by police into the Garden City Kansas courthouse on Jan. 6, 1960 charged with first degree murder.

The film is based on Truman Capote’s non fiction novel that started the True Crime trend. Capote was looking to write a non-fiction novel and had been inspired by the shot gun murders of the Clutter family when the sensational crime hit the news in 1959.

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Defense lawyer Duane West in court with real killer Richard “Dick’ Hickock.
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Capote, Wilson and Blake on the set of In Cold Blood in Kansas…
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The Herbert Clutter family portrait

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The two were arrested on January 2, 1960 in Las Vegas and then executed by hanging on April 14, 1965. For the five years the two remained on death row they exchanged letters with Capote twice a week. Capote actually lived near the prison in Garden City and became very close in particular with Perry Smith and Richard ‘Dick’ Hickock. According to Ralph F. Voss in his book Truman Capote and the Legacy of ‘In Cold Blood’ he writes that Smith had the idea that talking with Capote would spare him from the noose. But when he learns of the working title of the manuscript he winds up confronting Capote, who manages to manipulate him into confessing about the night of the Clutter murders.

Clutter NEWSPAPER CLIP

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Real life killers Perry Smith and Richard ‘Dick’ Hickock… the mug shots…

Capote tells Smith that “The world will see him as a monster if he doesn’t open up and tell Capote what Capote wants to know.” Eventually Perry Smith does open up and relates that brutal night in a vivid confession to Capote that winds up being “memorable lines that appear in the book”. As Voss tells us, “It is during this confession that this film, like the book and like both Richard Brook’s and Jonathan Kaplan’s film’s before it portray the brutal murders of the Clutters. Capote marks the fourth time Herb, Kenyon, Nancy and Bonnie die in artistic representations of their tragedy–once in Capote’s pages, and three times on screen.”

Robert Blake Scott Wilson and Truman Capote

The film doesn’t necessarily convey the emotional conflict that Capote felt for his subjects which is more obvious in his novel, he also created a connection with the killers that would be shared by the reader. According to writer Jean Murley from The Rise of True Crime: The 20th Century Murder and Popular Culture, “The simultaneous evocation of compassion for the murderer and horror at his deeds makes In Cold Blood a new form of murder narration… Capote’s narrative treatment of his subject would draw the reader into an uneasy and unprecedented relationship with killers, creating a sense of simultaneous identification and distance between reader and killer.” Murley asserts that there is a comfortable distance the reader experiences, “a vicarious thrill, a jolt of fear, and a comforting reassurance that the killer is contained.”

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Dick about to hang

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The spectre of the rope behind Perry

Dick faces the gallows

Just one more point about Capote’s novel that Jean Murley makes which I think is pretty revelatory about the killer (Perry) referred to as ‘sweet, suave and fascinatingly fatal’… ‘ who was at once a devious and dangerous loner and a sensitive wounded man’ within that is the notion that Murley distills the ‘ambiguity and intensity of the reader/killer relationship that allows the writer to interrogate notions of good and evil, self and other.” The film while starkly angled from the killers point of view for a good deal of the film, doesn’t quite evoke that same sympathetic enigma, though Robert Blake does an incredible job of portraying a wounded soul.

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The real life angry mug of Richard ‘Dick’ Hickock

Conversely Dick Hickock is described and masterfully pulled off by Scott Wilson as “vulgar, ugly, brutal and shallow; he looks like a murderer (the real Hickock looks like a vicious punk) and he wants to rape Nancy Clutter before before killing her. Perry Smith is sensitive, handsome, artistic, a dreamer; sickened by Hickock’s lust (there is a scene in the film while the two are in Mexico where Hickock is drinking & carousing with a local working girl in the room with Perry) in the film Perry prevents the rape. And in keeping with the book, Perry almost loses his nerve to even go through with the robbery, getting sick in the gas station right up to the time they drive up to the Clutters property. There is some emphasis on Dick’s relationship to his cancer ridden father (Jeff Corey) which showcases the only genuine connection he has to humanity.

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While Dick visits with his sick dad, he takes the opportunity to steal a rifle from the barn.
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(Dicks dad watching the news about the murders ) Mr. Hickock “Terrible thing that happened” Dick replies like this… “I’ve never been so hungry in my life.”

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Dewey comes to interview Dick’s father (Jeff Corey) who is dying of cancer and he tells them the last thing Dick ever said before he left was “Pa, I ain’t never gonna do anything to hurt ya. And he meant it too.”

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Dewey (Forsythe) shows Perry’s dad (McGraw) a photo to confirm his son’s identity.
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Perry’s father was worked in the rodeo back in the day

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Mr. Smith “Well then I guess I haven’t seen him for 5 or 6 years, that’s no surprising though he’s a lone wolf. You guys can rest easy on one thing for sure you won’t be having any more trouble with Perry. He’s learned his lesson for sure. He wrote me from prison I wrote him right back pronto. I taught the boy is you take your punishment with a smile. And I didn’t raise you to steal. So don’t expect me to cry.just because you got it tough behind the bars. Perry’s no fool. He knows when he’s beat you fella’s got him whipped forever. The law is the boss. He knows the difference between right and wrong. You can bet on that because I taught my kids the golden rule. Always tell the truth, always wash in the morning, always be sober and independent. And I showed him how. How to prospect how to trap fur how to carpenter how to bake bread how to be his own boss. Yes he’s a chip off the old block….”

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In particular Capote became very attached to Perry Smith, and struggled with demons about his execution, believed that both men’s natures were impacted by their early roots in poverty. Capote was tormented because he sold his soul to the devil, in order to write this ‘real’ book fueled by a tragic story that ultimately results not only in the murders of the Clutters but in the deaths of his subject of interest Perry Smith who went to the gallows. As Voss calls it, “the cost of literary non-fiction”. He also came to the conclusion that neither man was by himself a mass-murderer, but linked together they fed each-others egos and compensated for their inadequacies, as John McCarty says, “by constantly arousing and bolstering certain expectations of one another, they evolved into a potentially violent third party that was more than capable of murder.”  

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Eventually Capote would publish his true crime tome in The New Yorker in four installments between September and October of 1965, published as the book in 1966, and becoming a huge success adapted to film in 1967.

As Jean Murley points out in Rise of True Crime, The 20th-Century Murder and American Popular Culture “Capote brought together and perfected the nascent conventions of what would become true crime, and his basic formula has been copied ever since.”

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The film is elevated to a level of intense and searing reality due to brilliant cinematographer Conrad L. Hall’s  (Edge of Fury 1958, The Outer Limits television series 1963-64, Harper 1966, Cool Hand Luke 1967, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid 1969, The Day of the Locust 1975, Marathon Man 1976, American Beauty 1999) incredible eye for scoping out a palpable environment filled with dread, tension and instability in the normally ordinary settings. Either mastering the closed in spaces between figures who shape the narrative, he also captures the alienation in the scenes when the duo are driving through the dirty dusty openness of the Great Plains. The additional moody atmosphere is lent a heightened sense of anxiety by Quincy Jones’ cool score. The film cast includes; John Forsythe as Alwin Dewey, Paul Stewart as Reporter Jenson, Gerald S. O’ Loughlin as Harold Nye, Jeff Corey as Mr. Hickock, Charles McGraw as Mr. Smith, Sammy Thurman as Mrs. Smith, Will Geer as The Prosecutor.

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The incredible opening scene when Perry is sitting in the dark of the bus, strumming his guitar and the little girl watches for a brief moment…

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Rev James on phone with Perry at Bus station
In the beginning scene Perry calls his friend Reverend James Post who tells Perry that he’s already broken parole because he quit his job, and not to dare enter into Kansas. It is a warning that Perry still has time to redeem himself before there is no turning back.
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Perry gets off the bus and calls from the terminal waiting for his friend who is getting paroled that day and meeting Perry there. Reverend Jim Post tells Perry “What ever you do don’t cross that river into Kansas”  This scene acts as a premonition while Perry shivers, tears up and just assigns himself to his fate. He was supposed to meet Willy J there. “Can you tell me where he went?… please Jim.” his voice quavers sweaty crying as if he knows that his life is about to turn for the worse. “Its very important, maybe the most important thing in my life” Rev. Jim Post tells him ‘Go back why not see your father.” Perry hangs up. It is his first fateful decision of the film…

The film opens with a starkly gloomy night scene, Quincy Jone’s slick score leading us into the scene, as a Greyhound bus heads toward the camera. Inside, Robert Blake dark and brooding is sitting with his guitar. Conrad L Hall lights Perry’s intense face with the strike of a match he uses to light his cigarette. In a powerful moment it accesses our full attentions. Perry blows the little flame out and all at once the scene is wiped out in one puff! The film begins to peak our senses of danger in much the way Robert Siodmak’s masterpiece of film noir The Killers (1964) opening had led us into the plot.

As Jürgen Müller eloquently says it in his overview of 1960s cinema –“In Cold Blood opes with a flash and stealthily proceeds to trap its prey in a fog of eerie cinematic expression, born of its black and white photography and Quincy Jones’ dark jazz score.”

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In November of 1959 Kansas, two ex-cons and social outliers, the quiet , yet brooding Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and hyper-kinetic egotist Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson) conspire to go out on an adventure to travel 400 miles in a beat up old Chevy, in order to rob the Clutter family farmhouse. The film is part genre of the dark road trip film as the two maneuver, scheme and machinate on their dark road trip toward their fate. True crime flash back, neo-noir, police procedural, the shades of gray between good vs evil and a moral commentary on the death penalty, allowing the narrative to elicit sympathy and a vision from both murderers point of view, the ‘outlaws perspective’. It is still a very sobering view into the minds of the human offal of society.

Perry Smith’s most infamous statement about the crime, “I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.” 

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Perry talks about his cellmate Willy Jay refer to him (Perry) as being ‘unstable, explosive’ and him laughing about it being true. Dick comments that Willy Jay was a flaming faggot, Perry says he was the best friend he ever had…

Dick had been fed some gossip by an inmate friend, that Herbert Clutter (John McLiam) a wealthy farmer keeps a fortune, $10,000 stashed in his safe at the house. The two decide that it would be an easy job to grab the loot and head for Mexico, leaving their hard lives behind them. What becomes a spiraling coil of nerves, is fed from both Perry’s apprehension about the plot working and Dick’s cock sure attitude. In the twist of fate, it is Perry’s growing inner aggression that becomes the catalyst for the final annihilation of the family. Though Dick acts the part of punk, saying ‘No Witnesses he is not only priming Perry to be the one to have blood on his hands but by this time it is Perry who at first seems hesitant and adverse to violence, explodes in cold nuclear fission of seemingly senseless bloodshed.

The way In Cold Blood is constructed, it begins to release the tightly wound coil as the two draw nearer to the Clutter home, we are introduced to this clean cut American family in their daily life, in the light of the day, showing the family as an ordinary close and loving bunch right before they are about to be slaughtered. By the time the two men arrive, it is the dark and ominous shadow of night cloaking the ranch. Perry and Dick begin to wrangle the family bringing the men down to the basement tied up. But it is the day after the murders once the police arrive and told later on in flashback that we get hints of the savagery, that we could only imagine was about to happen the night before.

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Officer standing-“There’s two more in the basement”

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Officer Harold Nye (Gerald O McGlaughlin) asks Alvin Dewey (Forsythe) in the basement of the Clutter Home crime scene “The old Kansas myth. Every farmer with a good spread is supposed to have a hidden black box somewhere filled with money” He also asks if he thinks it’s the work of just one man. Dewey “It could be one man… a mad man…”

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The Kansas police begin their search in vain, as Perry and Dick make it to Mexico to hide out. Dick who is interested in partying with the senóritas Perry living half in surreal flashbacks to his bleak beginnings as a child with several siblings and his mother a beautiful Native American woman who liked her alcohol and other young men and committed suicide. His brutal father who drew a shot gun on him and chased him out of the house. Perry had a grim, sad and claustrophobic life, and thus he fantasizes. Perry makes a reference to digging for gold just like Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madra 1947. The irony of him finding empty bottles in the dessert that only yield a few cents, which he shares with a young homeless boy and his grandfather is a particularly humanizing scene in the midst of the fatalistic outcome that is inevitable. Perry never meant to amount to anything but a lost dreamer with no home.

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Perry tells Dick -“I think… you’re a bastard…”

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Not only is Perry a dreamer, but Dick is an egomaniac and also has delusions of grandeur. Once the two figure on having to come back to Nevada in order to get some cash, they are quickly picked up by the authorities and charged with the murders. Soon after, they realized they will be facing the death penalty.

Perry revisits that night at the Clutters, flashing moments of the night on the screen. We see them fumbling for the non existent safe. The mass murder that only yielded them a mere $43.  We see Perry and Dick rummaging through the house looking for anything valuable. Hall’s camera finally settles on the family coldly bound, gagged and positioned in a certain way that sends chills up the spine. Ultimately it is here that it is revealed that its the reluctant and quietly brewing fury inside Perry that goes on a single rampage and executes each family member calmly and cold-bloodily.

I guess the only thing I'm gonna miss in this world is that poor old man

Perry starts to break
“I guess the only thing I’m gonna miss in this world is that poor old man.” referring to his father.

Once again, Jürgen Müller-“The contradictions of the characters give the audience an inkling of what might have led to this senseless act of ultra violence.”

There is an element of homo-erotic attraction between Perry and Dick. It is unspoken yet it’s palpable to me, amidst the warm beer, faded treasure maps, dark brooding antagonism, prison scars, tattoos, sweating, greasy hair, aspirin popping, peacockery, wise-cracking resentment toward society and the morally driven nuclear family of the mid to late 50s.

Perry great shot bed tattoo

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From Movie Psychos and Madmen-Film Psychopaths from Jekyll and Hyde to Hannibal Lecter by John McCarty- McCarty’s chapter on Killer Couples points out how Capote’s film was the most “famous example of this type of lethal psychological interrelationship.” And though Smith had boasted to Hickock that he wasn’t a stranger to killing before that fateful night where his pent up aggression turned violent and he cold-bloodily killed four innocent people. Hickock was the one who “earmarked the Clutters for robbery, and it was he who engineered the heist by passing bad checks to buy the materials needed for the job. More important, it was Hickock, who was the dominant half of the pair.” Hickock appears the alpha male who uses the term ‘faggot’ too easy and Smith the submissive lover within the dynamic of their odd relationship. McCarty goes on to write, “Smith looked up to him and slaughtered the defenseless Clutters, toward whom Smith admitted later he never felt any anger, as a way of proving himself to his more glib, brash, and manipulative buddy.”

Deadly Duo

“You’re good. You’re really good! Smith tells Hickock who moves with ease as he proceeds to con a bunch of store owners passing bad checks. And on the flip side, Hickock is also impressed once Smith kills the helpless Clutters whose only provocation to violence is that they are ordinary. McCarty’s insight points out that like Leopold and Loeb, the same function worked for that killer pair, the less dominant wound up being the one who perpetrated the murder, while the more controlling “partner lent immoral support.”

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Will Gear as the prosecutor
Will Gear as the Prosecutor: “Mercy for them. The killers. How fortunate that their amicable attorneys were not present at the Clutter house on that fateful evening. How very fortunate for them that they were not present that evening to plead mercy for the doomed family, because otherwise, they would have found their corpses too. If you allow them life imprisonment, they will be eligible for parole in 7 years. That is the law. Gentlemen, 4 of your neighbors were slaughtered like hogs in a pen by them. They did not strike suddenly in the heat of passion, but for money. They did not kill in vengeance, they planned it for money. And how cheaply those lives were bought. $40. $10 a life. They drove 400 miles to come here. They brought their weapons with them. [picks up a shotgun]… This shotgun. [picks up a knife] This dagger [picks up a rope] “This is the rope they hogtied their victims with. [picks up a vial of blood] “This is the blood they spilled. Herb Clutter’s. They who had no pity, now ask for yours. They who had no mercy, now ask for yours. They who shed no tears, now ask for yours. If you have tears to shed, weep not for them, weep for their victims.” [picks up a copy of the Holy Bible] “From the way the Holy Bible was quoted here today, You might think the word of God was written only to protect the killers, but they didn’t read you this: Exodus 20:13: ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Or this: Genesis 9:12: ‘Who so sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.’
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Perry and the spectre of the rope

Here is a recently released article in the Smithsonian about Capote’s long time friend and writer Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird).

Read Harper Lee’s Profile of “In Cold Blood” Detective Al Dewey That Hasn’t Been Seen in More Than 50 Years

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From the Smithsonian.Com Reprinted here for the first time, the article was published five years before Truman Capote’s best-selling book

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Dick: [to Perry, just after arrest] “Hey, Buddy, put in a call for that big, ol’ Yellow Bird!”
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Dick begins to flip on Perry

The Big Yellow Bird he is referring to is a symbol, a warrior angel that comes to him in his dreams It is his savior, a protector he had during his dark days. He describes the bird as being “taller than Jesus, yellow like a sunflower.” 

The irony of the film plays itself out in little subtle commentaries like the insurance salesman who wishes Herb Clutter the night before he is murdered “A very long and healthy life” or the moment in Las Vegas, Dick at the wheel of the car wanting to gamble because he’s feeling lucky, at that split second the police car pulls up next to them and the scene cuts away to the Perry and Dick being brought in to the station.

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Dick: “I don’t know gold dust from diarrhea!”… Dick: [to Perry] “I’m SICK of it, maps, buried treasure, ALL OF IT! So ship it, burn it, get RID of that ton and a half of garbage! There AIN’T no buried treasure, and even if there WAS, boy, hell, you can’t even swim!”
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Perry says to Dick-“You know, there’s got to be something wrong with us to do what we did.”
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Dick: “Next move… Mexico. Once we beat it out of the country.” Perry: “On what? $43 and a smile and bullshit.” [First use of the word ‘bullshit’ in a Hollywood film] Perry: “It’s true! Really true! We’re on our way and never coming back. Never! And no regrets.”
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Dick: “For you. You’re leaving nothing. What about my old man… and my mother? They’ll still be there when my checks start bouncing.” Perry: “It’s nice the way you think about your folks. Dick: “Yeah! I’m a real thoughtful bastard.”
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part of the opening sequence once Perry gets off the bus and heads to the men’s room to wash up

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While at the bathroom mirror Perry fantasizes about being a huge celebrity playing the circuit in Las Vegas.

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Dick: “You guessed it, chief. It’s the smile that does it. Like it says in the commercials, the family that sticks together lives forever.” Perry: [to himself, looking in a bathroom mirror] “Stick ’em up!” Perry: “Hey, buddy!” Perry: [realizing he’s being watched] “How long you been standin’ there?” Dick: “Long enough to catch your late late show.”
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Perry Smith sympathetic
Perry: [quoting his father] “Look at me boy! Take a good look! Cause I’m the last living thing you’re ever gonna see!”
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Dick-“Hey Andy, does it tell anywhere in those big books what happens when you take the big drop?”
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Andy-“Well your neck breaks… and you crap your pants.”

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Dick-“Hey Andy say hello to Mr. Jenson he’s writing the story of my life.” Andy asks “Why?” and Dick giggles and tells Jenson how Andy killed his entire family.  “Andy’s a nut but I like him!” Jensen asks “What about Perry don’t you get along?” Dick says,“Heck there ain’t nobody get along with him. There’s 5 guys waiting in here for the big swing. Little Perry’s the only one yapping against Capital Punishment” Jensen surprised asks,”Don’t tell me you’re for it” Dick answers, ”Hanging will only get ya revenge. What’s wrong with revenge. I’ve been revenging myself all my life…”
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Perry to the guard “I’ve got to go to the toilet.” Guard-“We can’t remove the harness there may not be time.” Perry-“Please” Guard-“Try to control yourself.”
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Perry-“But that’s it when you hit the end of the rope… your muscles lose control. I’m afraid I’ll mess myself.” Guard-“It’s nothing to be ashamed of. They all do it”… Perry-“I despise people who can’t control themselves.”
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And the most senseless gist of the whole story… Perry explains: “It doesn’t make sense. I mean what happened. It had nothing to do with the Clutters. They never hurt me. They just happened to be there. I thought Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman… I thought so right up to the time I cut his throat.”

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Jensen: “I see, the hangman’s ready. What’s his name?”
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Perry: [his last words] ‘I’d like to apologize, but… who to?’

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“Love is when you meet someone who tells you something new about yourself.” André Breton-Mad Love

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Tony Lo Bianco as Ray Fernandez and Shirley Stoler as Martha Beck in The Honeymoon Killers 1969

The Honeymoon Killers (1969)

The Honeymoon Killers was written and directed by Leonard Kastle, the only film to his credit. Based on the lurid true-crime amour fou story of a pair of sociopaths who went on a killing spree between 1947-1949. (While the real crimes occurred in the late forties, the film makes use of many 60s fashions (big hair and black eyeliner), cars and set design right out of the late 1960s, not paying tribute to accuracy, tho adding an extra queasy and divergent quality as an infusion of two separate time frames (the latter having been fueled by sensational cases like the Manson murders). They were known in the tabloids as The Lonely Hearts Killers, Ray Fernandez and Martha Beck who met through a correspondence club, pretended to be sister and brother.

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The Honeymoon Killers 1969 Tony Lo Bianco and Shirley Stoler-promotion shot : Getty Images

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The couple had a strange unsettling yet fiery passion for each other up to the day they were executed in the electric chair at Sing-Sing prison on March 8, 1951. While Ray would lure middle-aged to elderly woman with money from the lonely-hearts column both he and Martha would murder each woman in varying ways. In fact the film only shows the couple killing a handful of women, in actuality it is said they were responsible for at least 20 murders. Also it does not mention that Martha Beck had children from a previous relationship, whom she abandoned in order to take up with Ray Fernandez.

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Real life Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez at their trial in 1951
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The real life Martha Beck

This low-budget vicious exploitation film creates an atmosphere of paranoia, nihilism, dread, a bleak and grotesque aggression toward society, stymied sexual release and is a pure example of the envisioning of psychopathic multiple murderers. The Honeymoon Killers is a nasty little gem on screen.

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The gritty and atmospheric camera works lends to the repulsive relationship between these opportunistic killers and the harsh and shocking way their victims die. Cinematographer Oliver Wood, has had an interesting and versatile trajectory starting with this cult exploitation film, moving on to the slasher genre, like Don’t Go in the House (1979). delving into the 80s indie crime action & horror films, Alphabet City (1984), Neon Maniacs (1986) photographing several episodes of Miami Vice, then he films Die Hard 2 (& the Adventures of Ford Fairlane 1990), Bill & Ted’s Bogus Adventure (1991), goes on to lens two award winning Hollywood films, Rudy 1993, and Mr. Holland’s Opus 1995, Gets involved with the 90s crime thriller like Face/Off and Switchback (1997) and photographs the popular Bourne series of films.

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Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler) at Sing-Sing prison awaiting trial.

The semi-documentary style is nurtured by the low-budget look created by the handheld camera that frames the ghastly true life murders in such a starkly realistic way, it makes you feel like a voyeur watching home made snuff films. The whole unseemly flavor of the film is rather disturbing.

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Similar killer couples in history-Myra Hindley and Ian Brady British amour fou thrill killers of the 60s

The film features several opuses from composer/conductor Gustav Mahler. Writer Martin Rubin’s description of how Mahler’s music works to reinforce the contrariness and dissonance of the visual narrative–the films use of Mahler’s score a “textbook example of contrapuntalism in the manner of the toe-tapping ‘ultra-violence’ used of “Singing in the Rain in A Clockwork Orange (1971)”

Malcolm McDowall singing in the rain, rape scene Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange
killing them softly with his song’ Singing in the Rain’ as a matter of fact, is what Malcolm McDowell and his toadies are doing in the brutal rape scene in director Stanley Kubrick’s (1971) violent odyssey A Clockwork Orange based on Kurt Vonnegut’s novel.

“Mahler’s music catapults us outside the often unbearable events and at the same time plunges us inside the main characters’ inflated and distorted interpretations of those events. Instead the music’s precise misalignment brings out this subjective dimension, which collides with other intractable elements in the film, such as the hideousness of the murders, the vulgarity of the victims in The Honeymoon Killers”- Martin Rubin

Shirley Stoler (Klute 1971, the prison camp commandant in Fellini’s Seven Beauties 1975, she also appeared in a variety of films such as:

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Shirley Stoler is sensually deviant, strikingly imposing as the prison camp commandant in director Lina Wertmüller’s Seven Beauties (1975)

The Deer Hunter 1978, Below the Belt 1980, Desperately Seeking Susan 1985, Mrs. Steve on PeeWee’s Playhouse 1986, Spike the bartender in Frank Henelotter’s Frankenhooker 1990) plays the sulking and morose Martha Beck an Administrative nurse living in Mobile Alabama with her elderly mother played by Dortha Duckworth. Great character actress Doris Roberts plays Martha’s friend Bunny who decides to sign Martha up for the ‘Lonely Hearts’ club. New Yorker Ray Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco) (The French Connection 1971) plays the manipulative lothario who speaks with a Hispanic accent like a FLAMING effeminate fop whose lilting high thin voice makes him sound more like a mix of Marx Brother & Bela’s Count Dracula than a serious virile stud.

wears a slick & then caffeinated toupee and has slippery eel like charms that seem to impress women who should see through his game but alas wind up paying the price the ultimate price with their lives.

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“Just think of the $10,000 while I’m gone that will pass the time more quickly”

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Oliver Wood’s camerawork frames the predatory Ray in his satin smoking jacket, a gigolo serious about his playboy techniques, working on his romantic letter to Martha while surrounded by his trophies, framed photographs of all the other women he has swindled in the past.

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Martha (Shirley Stoler) at the urging of friend Bunny (Doris Roberts) answers Rays ad in the Lonely Hearts personal ad.

Smarmy Ray reading a letter from another unsuspecting victim

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Martha decides to correspond with Ray and after he seduces her she grows obsessive with his slimy machismo, she even loans him money. After he runs back to New York, she receives a ‘Dear Jane letter’ from Ray, she gets her friend Bunny (Doris Roberts) to call and tell him that Martha has tried to kill herself. So Ray invites Martha to come to New York and meet him, where he reveals to her that his main lifestyle is luring lonely women to his bed, so he can swindle them out of their money. But Martha is not phased by this news at all. In fact he convinces Martha to put her embittered old mother (Dortha Duckworth) in a nursing home and hit the road with him.

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Bunny (Doris Roberts) calls Ray and tells him that Martha has tried to kill herself.
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Martha gets a dear Martha letter from Ray
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Dortha Duckworth plays Martha’s harping mother who is furious that Martha has put her in a nursing home against her will! Martha: “Mama, I’m not your little girl!”

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Mother Beck (Dortha Duckworth): [shouting at Martha from the window of the rest home she’s been dumped at] “Goddamn you, goddamn you! I hope you end up like this! I hope someone does this to YOU!”

While Ray goes to work seducing these desperate women who hunger for his amorous attentions, Martha insists on going along pretending to be Ray’s sister… and this narrative device creates an unsavory image on the screen and in our minds while Ray is wooing his next unwitting victim/bride and Martha is always in view.

It is understood by Martha, that Ray will never sleep with any of the women he plans to con, but things get tense when he has promised to marry Myrtle Young (Marilyn Chris).

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Myrtle buys Ray a new toupee! The way to every man’s heart!
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Myrtle- “You know you are much cuter than your picture.”
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Ray (going as Charles)-“Well I am going to make up my bed… Goodnight ladies.”

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Myrtle Young: [Ray rebuffs her sexual advances] “Oooo, you are meenie-weenie!”
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Myrtle is just giddy with her attraction for Ray. She sighs and tells Martha that she wants him to marry her since she’s knocked up by her deadbeat boyfriend
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Martha “People who sigh are unstable…”
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Martha “Whats the matter can’t you sleep you woke me up.” Myrtle “I guess I’m just restless.” Martha-“You want a sleeping pill I’ve got some” Myrtle “Do you have any other kind?” Martha -“What’d ya mean?” Myrtle “Never mind you wouldn’t know you’re too square” Martha-You sigh a lot don’t ya?” MarthaAt nursing school they taught us that people who sigh a lot are unstable. Is that your problem? “Myrtle “No! I was just thinking about your brother (chuckles) and how handsome he looked in that toupee I gave him. (giggles) He lied to you.” Martha- “I don’t believe it. He never lies to me!” Myrtle “I think he’s a little bit afraid of ya. its probably why he never married before. I”m afraid I’m gonna have to show him what to do… (she laughs to herself some more). Martha-“You must be some kind of an authority” Myrtle –“Well I am, pregnant.” Martha “Not only are you pregnant you’re disgusting. YOU’RE THE HOTTEST BITCH I’VE EVER SEEN!” Myrtle “I don’t have to take that from you! And let me tell you something. I am in love with your brother. And if we decide to make a go of this marriage, which I think we’ll do, and sooner than you think, why we’ll get out of here before you can say ‘Jack Robinson’. We will go to Little Rock. Why, as a matter of fact, I will make all the arrangements on the phone with my Papa tomorrow! Charles (RAY) will fit right in with us, he has STYLE. And you, you can go right back to that, that, that, that hospital of yours where you can boss everybody around! Now I’m going back to my husband!”
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Ray- “If I wanted to screw her she’d be satisfied by now!”

Myrtle threatens Martha that she’s gonna get on the phone with her papa and that Charles (Ray) will make a great addition to the family.

Of course Myrtle wants to sleep with this swarthy object of her desire and amorously pursues Ray, which makes Martha rupture a vein.

Ray tells Martha that all he wants her to do is go to sleep. She hands him the pills and he gives them to Myrtle, overdosing her with pills, (remember she’s a nurse), and the two stick the poor woman on a bus, where she is found dead, with no immediate or obvious clues of foul play that would point to Ray and Martha.

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Martha [after making their first kill] “Do you want the light on or off?” Ray: “Leave the light on. I want to make love.”
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Next up is the prim and mewling Doris Acker (Ann Harris) who marries Ray who is using the name Charles.

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Doris is a brash and whiny, enthusiastic to the point of grating sort of woman who teaches in Morris County New Jersey. She’s also loves to sing patriotic hymns in the bathtub, she is not an appealing woman because of the way she, snorts and snickers as she screeches with nationalist fervor  “America the Beautiful”  scrubbing her back in the bathtub. She also belts out “Glory Glory Hallelujah” in the shower. What is it about soap and running water that makes people want to sing?

Martha being the secret abhorrent contender for Ray’s true affections pays her back with a bellicose rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, all mind you while she and Ray are having sex right under Doris’ unwittingly naive nose.

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Shades of noir which became enveloped in the state of the transgressive cinema of the late 50s & 60s

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Ray-“Did they think youd stay a spinster forever?… Is there something wrong with that word darling?”
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Just give Doris a tub and a patriotic tune… and her swarthy Latin lover to consummate the wedding night!
DORIS- i'll be out in a little while lover...
Doris – “I’ll be out in a little while lover…”
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While Doris is bathing and belting one out, Martha goes through her handbag and grabs some jewelry and all her cash!

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When Doris threatens to leave, Ray gets realizes that Martha has blown the scam because she took Doris’ money too soon.
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Doris “I’m leaving. Martha-“That was a pretty short honeymoon.” Doris “Honeymoon! someone should tell your brother whats supposed to happen on a honeymoon!”

CapturFiles_14*I'm leaving. that was a pretty short honeymoon. Honeymoon someone should tell your brother whats supposed to happen on a honeymoon

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Ray tells Martha, “You shouldn’t have taken her things last night, you should have waited.”

After Doris storms out threatening to sue, Ray begins to look at a new prospect, a woman in Missouri, but Martha wants to know why he has to write to her now.

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Ray, “Because she’ll give me $4000 to marry her” 

In order to keep Martha placated, and to feel more settled into a ‘normal’ routine, Ray buys a house in Valley Stream, Long Island, a suburb of New York City (where I spent many early days writing music and forming my now broken up Jo Gabriel band.)

In compulsive killer films, the criminals according to Leyton, in his book Compulsive Killers, describes the criminals as more concerned with status than sex. They tend to be highly conscious of their excluded status, which they acknowledge with a derisive irony that can be literally devastating. Martha and Ray’s sorry attempt to blend into suburbia.” And added to this dynamic as Rubin points out, “The ‘films’ touched upon stress points and contradictions in the maintenance of the American Dream that were strained by the end of the 60s.”

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The deadly duo try to make a ‘normal’ home life in the glorious mythology that is suburban happiness!
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“Don’t eat candy at 10 O’Clock in the morning!”
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“You make me nervous!”
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Martha “I’m not going to Michigan she’s too young RAY” Being driven crazy by the house he tells Martha “If you love me you’ll do it.”

The third woman is nice, a little plain but very kind, played by Barbara Cason (prolific tv character actress) as Evelyn Long. The three are at a picnic at the lake.
When Ray and Evelyn lye down to make love, Martha sees them from the lake and begins to try and drown herself. First she yell’s “You promised!” then as she gasps to stay afloat she hears her mother speaking in an inner monologue,  “What’s the matter with my little girl?” and then Martha calls out for “Mama, mama!”

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“You promised! you promised!”

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Martha’s jealousy is a sickly possessiveness like that of a bratty overgrown child. While Ray is getting too comfortable with Jane as he starts to make whoopie, Martha discovers the two and becomes operatic, deciding to wade into the water, where she sloppily struggles to drown herself exhibitionist style for Ray, but she fails the impromptu suicide attempt. Ray swims to her rescue, holds her in his arms, kissing her passionately and apologizing.

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Evelyn realizing the scam, dodges a bullet.. and is spared a horrible end…
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On the way to meet Janet Fay, Ray entering New York after Martha ruins his last conquest with Evelyn. He tells her “I’m the one who should be angry, you know with your stupid jealousy… you could have gotten me into trouble.”
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The next victim is Janet Fay played by Mary Jane Higby

The next of Ray’s woman in peril, is played by actress Mary Jane Higby (she appeared in 36 episodes of the “CBS Radio Mystery Theater, and her father was Wilbur Higby Silent film actor) as Janet Fay an overbearing and whiny schoolteacher from Albany. Ray becomes engaged to the elderly woman who proceeds to give him $10,000 but then gets suspicious of Ray and his brooding tag along sister Martha.

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Janet suggests to Ray that he choose something cheaper, “My… a dollar eighty-five for a veal cutlet…. But have whatever you want, don’t let me influence you.” Of course Martha decides, “I’ll have the veal cutlet!”

Janet Fay is a frugal penny-pincher who lives in a kitsch world, dotes over her prized possessions, two paintings of Jesus, an over-used utterance of hers is “Isn’t that cu-ute!”  The old fashioned hair bonnet she wears to bed gives her the ludicrous look of a victim right out of a dark fable, considering Ray and Martha are monstrous when they finally kill her. Her death face is both frightening and grotesquely magnified, yet quite real and horrific.

When she offers to treat Ray and Martha to cafeteria food, she demonstrates her cheapness by remarking, “My… a dollar eighty-five for a veal cutlet…. But have whatever you want, don’t let me influence you.” Of course Martha decides, “I’ll have the veal cutlet!”

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The two women sleep in one room. The constantly whining worrisome asks Martha if she thinks Charles is alright on the little couch..

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Once Janet realizes she is being taken by these two outrageous swindlers she tries to get word to her family, but Martha emerges monstrous and bashes Janet on the head with a hammer. Then using the hammer as a tourniquet (Martha the always helpful nurse on hand) shows Ray who finishes Janet off by strangling her. Janet winds up in her own trunk buried in the cellar. As part of the black comedy and ironic sick humor infused into this film, they toss dirt onto the grave, along with Janet’s two favorite paintings of Jesus, Martha cracks sarcastically that Janet told them she took them everywhere! In an appallingly crass moment Martha snickers, “Now isn’t that cu-ute!”

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At first when Janet starts to become frightened she wants her checks back but Janet hears Martha ask “What are we going to do with her Ray?” Janet  starts to shake and talk very fast, she no longer wants the checks back, no police, she goes to her with the big JANET FEY letters embossed trunk to get a few things, and says she’ll just go get some fresh air. Screeching, she rifles through her trunk. Where is her jewelry? somebody took her jewelry! The Mahler score works on one steady pulsing note. The room is dark. The murder is coming. as she stammers, off screen with her screeching panicked voice.

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Ray yells in a high voice “Hit her again” the hammer comes down and we hear the crack.

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After they strangle Janet, Ray is visibly disturbed by it. He’s shaken up from the blood that soaks his shirt and he rips it off his body, telling Martha to put out the light. She is the ultra violent force in this duo.

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Janet’s prize paintings of Jesus get buried in her trunk in the cellar with her lifeless bludgeoned and strangled body

The death scenes in The Honeymoon Killers are so brutal and revolting in such a simplistic way that it leaves you uncomfortably defenseless.

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Little Rainelle is afraid of Martha and begins to cry before she tries to give Aunt Martha a kissie!

The deadly duo travel to Michigan where Ray hooks up with a new woman, a widow Delphine Downing (Kip McArdle) and her young daughter Rainelle (Mary Breen). This is a bit of a departure for Ray as he is used to conning older women. Delphine is more attractive that his usual romantic pawns. Delphine makes the mistake of telling Ray’s sister Martha (haha sure Delphine sure!) that’s she’d like her to help convince Ray to marry her because she is pregnant with Ray’s baby.

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The Honeymoon Killers does not use the device of suspense, the violence, the killings happen as matter of fact and with immediate plunge into each scene’s centrifuge. As Martin Ruben puts it there’s an, “arbitrary suddenness or flat inevitability…”

☟Just for those of you who are dog lovers, there is a scene in the film that I suggest you skip. Martha is just not a nice person…

Rainelle walks in accompanied by Ray, while Martha is drugging her mother. Ray shoots Delphine in the head and what happens off screen is Martha brutally murdering Rainelle by drowning her in the basement sink.

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Ray always seems to get the THE AFTER KILL BLUES

The other victim is just a little girl… how horrific to be drowned in the basement sink… it leaves a terrible feeling in your stomach. By this time Ray seems visible disturbed by all the killing It takes a special kind of evil to cold bloodily murder a little girl and her puppy too. Martha just leads her down to the basement to drown her, saying that she’s gonna see her mommy and her new little puppy!

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Ray has one more woman lined up in New Orleans, but promises Martha that he will marry her once this last swindle is over.

Calmly Martha embraces the fact that Ray will never be faithful to her, and that his promises mean nothing. She calls the police and simply waits for them to come and pick both of them up.

In the final moments of the movie, Martha and Ray are in Sing-Sing, she sits in court on the first day of the trial. Ray sends her a letter swearing that she will always be the only woman he loves.

As film historian/author Charles Derry puts it in his book Dark Dreams that there was a few films during the Nixon era that were real life crime stories among them was the disturbing The Incident (1967) with Martin Sheen and Tony Musante who also play a pair of psychopaths who feed off each other’s psychosis, killing random people then holding a subway car hostage with violent outburst and threats. The cast includes quite a number of impressive actors, Victor Arnold, Beau Bridges, Ruby Dee, Gary Merrill, Donna Mills, Brock Peters, Thelma Ritter, Jack Gilford, and Jan Sterling. There’s also The Boston Strangler (1968) starring Tony Curtis, and Targets (1968) starring Boris Karloff, this would be director Peter Bogdanovich’s first film. Included in Derry’s list is the first half of this post’s focus In Cold Blood (1967) … and includes The Honeymoon Killers. Derry writes it is a “purely literal level as a representation of what in the sixties seemed to be an increasing fear.”

Tony Curtis in The Boston Strangler

Martin Sheen Tony Musante and Gary Merrill in The Incident

“Yet ultimately it is the low-budget The Honeymoon Killers, a black-and-white independent American film clearly ahead of it’s time which shocks the most. Starring the unlikely pairing of stolid Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco as the real-life ‘Lonely Hearts Killers’  Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez, whose murder spree is propelled by an amour fou that both Luis Buńuel and François Truffaut would be proud of’. The Honeymoon Killers impresses with its casual depiction of the sordid everyday” –Charles Derry

Real life Lonely Heart Killers - Ray Fernandez and Martha Beck

From Mythologies of Violence in Post Modern Media edited by Christopher Sharrett: Chapter–The Grayness of Darkness: The Honeymoon Killers and It’s impact on Psychokiller Cinema by Martin Rubin —

“For thirty years these films have provided an especially effective variation on our recent fascination with multiple murder, and they offer an illuminating angle of approach to the historical and cultural contexts that have shaped that fascination…{…} there is an enigmatic aura surrounding modern multiple murderers that endows them with special menace.“-Martin Rubin

Rubin points out that unlike the tortured souls of other cinematic offbeat psychopaths as with Peter Lorre in Fritz Lang’s M (1931), Anthony Perkins in Psycho (1960) and Carl Bohm in Peeping Tom (1960) “Although these killers may appear bland on the outside, their psychology contains a monstrous alter ego more in keeping with the monstrous acts they commit.”

Peter Lorre plays child killer Hans Beckert in director Fritz Lang's M (1931)

Anthony-Perkins-in Hitchcock's Psycho

Rubin’s various insight suggests that many of these documentary feeling crime thrillers are traditional in the postwar sentiment that reflected social problems in films, such as Robert Ryan’s chilling performance as the psychopathic veteran Montgomery an anti-Semitic neanderthal who is behind the murder of a young Jewish man in director Edward Dmytryk’s taughtly wound noir Crossfire (1947) Written incidentally by In Cold Blood director Richard Brooks.

Franz in The Sniper 1950

The Sniper (1952) starring Eduard Franz as Eddie is about a disturbed young man who despises his mother and takes aim at women with his long range rifle. One of my all time favorite noir police procedural is Jules Dassin’s The Naked City (1948) which incidentally I just watched recently, it never loses it’s noir-oomph. It was also shot on location in New York City giving the film a gritty semi-documentary style to it, following Det.Lt. Dan Muldoon played by the cinematic leprechaun-esque Barry Fitzgerald on the trail of the man who brutally murdered an attractive blonde model in her NYC apartment. I would add to the list of gritty police noirs– Ida Lupino’s incredibly slick The Hitch-Hiker (1953) starring Frank Lovejoy as the psychotic escaped convict who picks off good Samaritans as he tries to elude the police. He hitches a ride with Edmund O’Brien and William Talman, holds them hostage and proceeds to torture the men with his sadistic mind games. And there’s always He Walked by Night (1948) Richard Basehart plays cop killer Roy Martin in Post World War II Los Angeles, who is suspected of other crimes. And of course the truly underrated The Killer is Loose (1956) where Wendell Corey plays one sad and sick puppy. I covered this film in 2011 click on the link above!

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As Rubin suggests how these semi-documentary crime thrillers using location -shooting, facts, and scientific procedures, they convey their message thus, “it projects a faith in rationality and social authority.”

The Honeymoon Killers is a disturbing, grotesque and unsettling movie underscored by Gustav Mahler’s dynamic musical expressions. The film starts to bring you into it’s miasma when there is a jolting off-screen noise and out of a cloud of smoke in a hospital corridor the frame shifts to the imposing vision of Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler) who emerges from the doorway, bounding down the hall as Rubin so hilariously lampoons her malignant energy with his clever simile “like a stupendous Valkyrie.”

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Martha- “I don’t give a damn what the two of you do outside this hospital…. This is a hospital laboratory not a hotel room!”

The film is based on the grisly true story of a case back in the late 1940s labeled the “Lonely Hearts Murders.”  The swarthy Raymond Fernandez originally from New York is a con man who uses the Lonely Hearts Club to gain access to vulnerable love starved older women.

Shirley Stoler

Martha Beck is an imposing, large and nasty nurse working in Alabama. The killer love birds get together after finding each other through a correspondence club. As usual with any sociopathic murderous pair, there is the more aggressive of the two. It was actually Martha who would incite Ray to start killing his targeted paramours rather than just swindling these ladies out of their nest eggs. The victims themselves while vulnerable and not deserving a violent end, are portrayed as queer and unlikable and for that reason almost easy pickings for the predators that Ray and Martha are. The victims, contrast the ‘exoticism’, the extreme outlier nature and vulgarity of Ray and Martha’s secret love with these women’s mundane rituals and routines, as Rubin puts it, “all are petty, simpering miserly and/or wincingly trite in varying degrees.”

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Beyond the more conventional motivations for the scam/murders such as Ray’s voracious greed and Martha’s homicidal jealousy, Ray and Martha exhibit within their criminal natures– the real queasy, belligerent, unapologetic kind of sociopathic behavior. According to Levin and Fox in their book Mass Murder, “The sociopath is bad not mad, crafty not crazy.”

Because of the low-budget quality the lighting creates an uneasy space because it enfolds the film within an overall disparity, the black & white cinematography and trashy style almost lend a more brutal and striking sense of realism and Cinéma vérité, it’s quite an independent film that breaks the Hollywood mold.

The film works on a level that makes us feel uncomfortable because the characters themselves are unstable and are not anti-heroes as with other films, Ray is smarmy and brutish and Martha is nasty, bigoted and a self-indulgent she-devil. When she gets fired by her Jewish boss, she exclaims “I’m not sure Hitler wasn’t right about you people!”

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The Honeymoon Killers becomes gradually even more creepy and uncomfortable as Martha insists on going along with Ray to his romantic interludes with the women he has targeted.

As we watch Martha emerge as a jealous ogress whenever Ray would be in the middle of his greasy wooing. The film utilizes Martha’s larger weight, framing it as part of her pathology, focusing on her as wielding her size and her appetites around as a vulgar weapon. The camera does frame quite a lot of attention on Martha’s relationship to food. Ray leaves her alone in the Hotel room with a box of chocolates to pacify her, when he goes out with one of his lady pigeons.

There is an extreme close up that settles on her hands perusing through the box of a Whitman Sampler, oh ye decedent nectar of the gods to many women- that would be chocolate. The flirtation of her fingers fondling the assortment, oh which kind to choose?, ultimately deciding on the truffles. The scene fades out as Martha lays snoring on the bed satiated from gorging herself with the empty wrappers strewn around her like crude jewels or the spoils of comfort eating.

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The two have a sick sort of connection that in the end even after they are sentenced to death, nothing can break their bond. When Martha is waiting for the trial to begin, she is only concerned that Ray still loves her. Once she gets the letter from him, their love is sealed in that infamous moment where two narcissistic killers have transcended the law “You are the one and only woman I will ever love, now and beyond the grave.”

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In his essay From Grayness to Darkness–Martin Rubin points out Terrence Malick’s film Badlands (1973) about two South Dakota outliers of society, one Kit a sociopath (Martin Sheen) who is the dominant aggressor who picks a naive 15 year old girl Holly (Sissy Spacek) to be his accomplice/lover. First Kit kills her father (Warren Oates) when he threatens to keep his daughter away from Kit. As they move aimlessly across the country on a killing spree, targeting random people who get in their way. Malick’s film is like a dangerous dance with an amazing performance by Martin Sheen. It becomes more clear that Kit is destined to get caught but not before he causes a national sensation making himself a sort of anti-hero.

Sheen and Spacek in Badlands

Rubin-“Also loosely based on a true crime. post-mortem on exhausted rebel mythologies (the 1950s juvenile delinquent, the 1960s outlaw”)

Rubin also brings up a few more interesting points. One a comparison to the film I’ve paired this one with… In Cold Blood where it is clear in his essay Rubin is not a fan of the film, whereas I am, and yet he had found a few sentient points I see as fascinating .

Unlike In Cold Blood, The Honeymoon Killers pursue a style of studied disassociation that hinders such access as to ‘get inside’ the killer’s mind.

In The Honeymoon Killers suspense leading up to the violence is generally avoided in favor of arbitrary suddenness or flat inevitability…

… The characters just seem to wind down, overcome by exhaustion and inertia. Martha wearily turns herself and her lover, over to the police.
In Badlands Kit shoots out the tires of his car and waits for the law to catch up to him… it’s like the inevitability… fatalism.

These films contain a scarcity of climatic cathartic shoot outs and or executions in contrast to Bonnie and Clyde.”

Bonnie and Clyde

Rubin “… banality of the society to which Ray and Martha constitute their menace. The Honeymoon Killers presents a putrescent version of Norman Rockwell’s America: a kitschy wasteland filled with uninspiring patriotism, meager dreams, and tawdry decor. At one point Ray and Martha try to live a normal life by buying a house in Valley Stream. The film does not bother to dwell on predictable shots of suburban vacuity. We just see Ray moping by an over lit window that obscures the void outside he observes glumly, “They call this place Valley Stream… What a joke!”

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Ray stands in front of the window in his Valley Stream suburban prison… the light is all blown out “I hate it here!… this rotten house”

Rubin sums it up,  “Like most films on the subject, Silence of the Lambs cultivates the exotic orchids of psychokillerdom The Honeymoon Killers et al confine themselves to the weeds.”

The Honeymoon Killers is ripe with the banality of suburban ills and the evil that can easily swoop down and pick the bones of the complacent fools who are waiting to be victimized. Strewn amid the lurid scenes are symbols of bourgeois atrophy, religious relics, and the imagery or hallucinatory American dream with it’s tacky comforts turned American nightmare.

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Amour fou & Folie à deux truimph over the electric chair. Once Martha reads Ray’s letter of undying devotion, all is right with the world…?

This is the end of the road folks! This fabulous 2016 Great Villain Blogathon will come around again next year! So behave til then… Your Ever Lovin’ Joey

9 thoughts on “The Great Villain Blogathon 2016: True Crime Folie à deux: In Cold Blood (1967) & The Honeymoon Killers (1969)

  1. Once again, a “killer” post from MG. Your encyclopedic knowledge and deep-end writing style makes all your movie posts a big treat to read. Both films are faves of mine and it’s great to see their more realistic takes on this sort of violence gets you as well as it does me. Over the years I’ve recommended both films (and others in the same vein) to friends with the caveat “prepare to be disturbed more than usual”, and even some of those who love their TV crime dramas have had their eyelids peeled back by what they’ve seen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OOhh the idea of eyes pealed back is outré disturbing in itself… You flatter and honor me with your very kind praise of my humble blog. I’m glad we’re like minded and have the same vision and taste of the films that seem to draw us in. It’s so interesting how much something so disturbing and repellent can turn the wheels in your mind. It’s like it digs out the question, how can people do such in human things… Not crazy, maybe not even evil. Just damaged and disturbed enough to crack in one split moment. What are some other favs of yours I’d love to know… and thanks again so much for your wonderful comment. You’re always a welcome friend here at The Last Drive In… Cheers Joey

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, my list of favorite films is quite lengthy and could fill a book. Actually, it DID almost fill a book. I used to have one of those composition notebooks with about 90 of 100 pages made up of films I saw and wanted to see. Stuff I saw got crossed off and starred if I liked a film and wanted to see again. Had that thing for years, but it vanished during a move. That bugged me to no end, but I figured whoever found it got a nice list of movies to see or wonder what the heck all those names and gold stars were all about.

        One day, I need to drop a post down with movies I like, so thanks for the reminder that it needs to happen!

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      2. Oh no!!!! I have a book like that myself. I didn’t lose it in the last move, thank god. It’s really helpful to keep a list. I’d love to see a post with some of your top favorites…

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    1. I love that list! There are so many films that are my absolute favorites and a whole bunch that I now need to see, thanks to your knowledge of film and similar taste I just know I’ll they will soon be favorites of mine too. Thanks for the link. I’ll let you know once I’ve watched any that I’ve not seen before. Cheers Joey

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  2. Fascinating and enlightening analysis as always, love to read your views, we have similar tastes so in this case you put a new one on my watch list. Haven’t seen the Honeymoon Killers yet but of course In Cold Blood is terrifying and unforgettable. Real-life monsters depicted realistically. You would have appreciated Private Property, which I just saw–it reminded me a lot of ICB. Thanks so much for taking part in the blogathon!

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  3. The film In Cold Blood is every bit as mesmerizing as Truman Capote’s book, and your review has certainly done it justice. In fact, I think I’ll refer back to your post the next time I see it.

    I’m another one who hasn’t seen The Honeymoon Killers, and it sounds intense and disturbing – but it also sounds well acted.

    Your post had me enthralled all the way through, with your excellent analysis. Thanks for sharing all your hard work with us, and thanks for joining the blogathon! :)

    Like

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