Ken Harrison 6:45 p.m., Aug. 23
One-shot writer, director Leonard Kastle, 82, died on Wednesday at his home in Westerlo, N.Y. He may have been a one-hit wonder, but oh what a hit it was! At the time of its limited release, the low-budget indie The Honeymoon Killers (1969) was unlike anything audiences had seen before and, with the possible exception of Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer, since.
Kastle intended it to be an answer to Arthur Penn's glamorized treatment of the legend of Bonnie and Clyde. Shot in black-and-white, the perverse (and genuinely felt) love story between a greasy gigolo (Tony Lo Bianco) and an obese, churlish nurse (Shirley Stoler) who go on a "lonely-hearts" killing spree didn't attract exploitation fans eager to soak in candy-colored gore. Conversely, the film's unflinching blend of inexcusable violence and gallows humor more than likely turned off the art house crowd.
As a historical footnote, The Honeymoon Killers was to be Martin Scorsese's second feature. He began the project and was canned one week in after butting heads with industrial filmmaker and co-director Donald Volkman. Volkman took over and lasted twice as long as Marty before Kastle assumed control of the reins.
In an interview on the Criterion DVD, Kastle revealed that Marty was shown the door because he filmed master shots with almost no close-ups, making the raw footage impossible to cut together. Scorsese was let go after taking too long to light a close-up of a cup of coffee accordng to his exacting specifications. Where does Volkman get his balls big enough to call "cut" on Marty's set? Somebody needed to give the meddlesome clod the Clockwork Orange treatment on Marty's debut feature Who's That Knocking at My Door?, a film that doesn't contain so much as one match cut.
Outside of his brief foray into cinema, the Bronx-born Kastle was a classically trained opera composer and librettist. Why only one film for Leonard Kastle? He told Criterion that after Killers, all Hollywood wanted was more of the same, which was something he was unwilling to provide.
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