2006 - Germany / United States - 108 minutes
Director and Writer - Todd Robinson
My Rating - 4 of 5 Stars
This film is an interesting take on actual crimes that occurred in the late 1940’s. The criminals were Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck. Fernandez had been conducting cons of lonely women for a number of years in which he would wine and dine them, worm his way into their lives and eventually steal their money - all of this through ads in lonely hearts magazines - the Match.com of the times.
In 1947, he answered an ad by Martha Beck. This coupling of two demented beings produced a monster of indescribable evil. It is pretty much confirmed that Beck seemed to have some sort of mysterious power over Fernandez. He was a reasonably handsome man, but she was fat and ugly. What was it that caused Fernandez to actually murder for this woman? The fact is that Beck was extremely sexually promiscuous and probably practiced acts not very common for the times. I’m sure there were deep psychological aspects to their relationship, but, simply put in the vernacular, Fernandez was letting his little head do the thinking for him.
The two joined together in their con games with Beck posing as Fernandez’s sister. It has been written that Beck was so possessive that she forbad Fernandez from entering into any sexual relationships with their marks, but the reality of this may be a little hard to believe.
When captured, the two admitted to murdering three people. First was a sixty-six year old widow whom the two had taken to his Long Island apartment. Beck discovered her lover and the widow engaging in sex and bashed her head in with a hammer. She did not die, so Fernandez finished her off by chocking her to death. They then traveled to Michigan where they eventually murdered a young widow and her two-year-old daughter.
The two were put to death in the electric chair in New York State in 1951.
The film focuses upon the killers and the New York detectives who worked to solve the crimes. One was Elmer Robinson who was the grandfather of writer, director Todd Robinson. Lonely Hearts is really a tribute to his grandfather by Robinson, but that doesn’t make the film any less intriguing and enjoyable.
Even though the facts of the film are basically accurate, I think Robinson created a misstep in casting Salma Hayek as Martha Beck. Please be aware that Hayek gives a superior performance as an amoral woman obsessed with a man to the point of murder, but her physical appearance is so far afield from the real Beck that the relationship between Beck and Fernandez is totally blurred.
In real life, one wonders what hold Beck held over Fernandez, but in this film relationships are reversed, and one must wonder what hold Fernandez has over the extremely sexy and desirable Beck as portrayed by Hayek. I guess you could say it doesn’t really matter because obsessions on the part of both lead them to the murders. I guess, in this case, Hollywood wins out. After all, who would you rather see in the role - someone fat and ugly or Salma Hayek?
Jared Leto gives an excellent performance as Raymond Fernandez. He gives us a duality of a man - one outgoing and charming and the other dark and needy. Plus he gets extra chops for the pain of makeup. Fernandez was a balding man who wore a toupee. Leto had to submit to shaving and having hairs plucked from his scalp in order to make his appearance genuine. Ouch! But, I guess he got paid a lot.
The real stars of the film are John Travolta as Elmer Robinson and James Gandolfini as his partner. Travolta is a very good actor, and in Lonely Hearts he gives us a man determined to find two vicious killers while dealing with numerous family traumas. Todd Robinson certainly picked the best man to play his grandfather, and Travolta offers a heartfelt tribute to the real Elmer Robinson. Gandolfini is perfect as the big, rough guy with a heart even bigger who consistently supports his friend and partner. These two actors are a great combination.
I really knew nothing of Lonely Hearts and have to give Blockbuster a pat on the shoulder for recommending this film as one I might like. (It’s really kind of scary as to how websites such as Blockbuster and NetFlix come to know one so well.) If this is a film that has slipped through the cracks of your viewing possibilities, and you enjoy crime dramas, I heartedly recommend it.
September 6, 2008