In the early 1950s, Martha Beck, who lives with her slightly senile mother, is the head nurse in a Mobile, Alabama hospital. She is bitter about her life, she not having male companionship in large part because she is overweight, while her bitterness in turn does not endear her to people. She is initially angry with her best friend, Bunny, for signing her up to a lonely hearts club, but eventually decides to give it a try. Through it, she meets Ray Fernandez, a suave Spanish immigrant living in New York, he who contacted Martha as the first through the club. After Ray's trip to Mobile to meet Martha, they fall in love. Upon a subsequent visit Martha makes to Ray in New York - which leads to her being fired in part for her time off work - he decides to be up front with her: that she is not only not his "first" but that he is really a con man who, primarily through the club, seduces then bilks lonely women of their money. Pretending to be his sister to prospective targets, Martha ... Written by
Director François Truffaut called this his favorite American film. See more »
A copy of the album "Whipped Cream & Other Delights" by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass is clearly visible in Martha's apartment. The album was released in 1965, while the movie takes place prior to 1951, according to the message at the end. See more »
Based on the true story of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, who met through a lonely-hearts correspondence club, Ray (Tony Lo Bianco) is sleazy and untrustworthy; Martha (Shirley Stoler) is obese, compulsive, and needy. Together, they play out a horrifying scheme in which he lures lonely women out on dates and proposes marriage to them, while she pretends to be his sister. After the marriage ceremonies, they take the womens savings and then murder them in cold blood.
The way this film is shot, with its grainy black and white footage, murky sound, bright whites and dark shadows, only adds to its incredibly unsettling nature. Watching this is almost like watching a documentary, and occasionally, a snuff film.
Though the acting from the supporting cast is a bit iffy at times, the two leads are excellent. Particularly Shirley Stoller. While Lo Bianco creates one of the most hateful slime-balls I've ever seen, Stoller dominates this film. Her Martha is a frightening, unpleasant, disgusting woman, who is as ugly on the inside as she is on the outside. Her evil nature fills the frame whenever she is on screen.
If you're looking for a fast paced thriller, look elsewhere. The pacing in this movie is slow, which only adds to the disturbing documentary feel. But if you want to see a movie where character comes first, and action second, seek this classic out.
11 of 15 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?