Thursday, February 08, 2007


Cult movie which, while interesting, seems a little overrated to me, worth watching mostly for its historical significance as a bridge between films like IN COLD BLOOD and HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, and for excellent performances by its leads, Tony Lo Bianco and Shirley Stoler. The narrative is based on a true story and apparently sticks pretty close to the facts. Stoler plays a mean, lonely, overweight nurse who lives with her senile mother. When her friend (a very young Doris Roberts) enters Stoler in a lonely hearts correspondence club, she's pissed off until she hits it off with Lo Bianco, a sexy but clearly low-rent guy who flirts with her and charms her mother. When he wheedles a little cash out of Stoler and leaves, she calls him and threatens suicide (though we know that she's faking it). It turns out that he makes his living by glomming onto lonely single women who have some cash saved up and romancing them just enough to get his hands on the money before he splits. Far from being shocked, Stoler falls right into the scam with him, posing as his sister as he continues making contact with lonely women ripe for the picking. Things work for a while so long as Stoler believes that Lo Bianco isn't falling for or having sex with any of the women. Eventually, he marries a woman who is already pregnant and the three, cramped together in a tiny hotel room, get on each other's nerves; Stoler's solution is to feed the woman an overdose of pills and dump her on a bus, where she is found later dead. It's not clear to me if Stoler actually intended to kill her, but murder soon becomes the default solution to any problem. They bilk an older woman (Mary Jane Higby) when they claim to be investing her money by opening a hat shop for her; Higby gets suspicious of Stoler and his "sister" spending too much time alone in the cellar, so in a startling scene, the couple kill her with a hammer, and with the body still warm, Lo Biano strips off his clothes to have sex with Stoler. The last murders, also disturbing, occur when the woman being conned, the mother of a young daughter, tells Stoler she's become pregnant by Lo Bianco--they wind up shooting her and drowning the little girl. Finally feeling resigned to the fact that she'll never be able to keep Lo Bianco for herself, she calls the police and turns them both in. Stoler is fearless playing an unattractive character, in both looks and personality. Similarly, Lo Bianco is great as a guy with just enough looks and surface charm to get away with the scams he does. Because the focus of the film is on Stoler (she is in almost every scene), Lo Bianco remains a bit of a cipher; I was never sure if he really was in love with Stoler, or had just come to rely on her as a helpmate and confidante. Nevertheless, the two both give fine performances, even if, in retrospect, it seems as if Stoler may have served as a template for the persona of Divine in the movies of John Waters. The stark black and white semi-documentary look of the film gives it an unsettling matter-of-fact tone. Written and directed by Leonard Kastle, who sadly never did another film. [TCM]

No comments: