Lonely Hearts


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Lonely Hearts is a loosely historical treatment of Raymond Martinez and Martha Beck, serial killers who preyed on lonely women back in the late 1940s. They were eventually caught, convicted after a 44-day trial, and executed in New York's electric chair.  Lonely Hearts is the fourth film to portray the killers fictionally. The first was The Honeymoon Killers (1970), a pseudo-docudrama which identified the killers by their real names. The second was also called Lonely Hearts, a 1991 roman a clef starring Eric Roberts and Beverly D'Angelo. The third was Deep Crimson, a Spanish-language roman a clef from Mexico, which was nominated for 15 Ariel awards in 1997, winning eight.

Of the four films, the new version of Lonely Hearts is the only one to incorporate the perspective of the detectives who worked on the case. In fact the writer/director of the film, Todd Robinson, is the grandson of the lead detective from New York, and used his own grandmother's scrapbook for research, as well as to form the montage behind the opening credits. Given his special relationship to the subject matter, especially from the perspective of the investigating officers, one would assume that Robinson's version of the story would be the least romanticized, and the most loyal to the facts of the case. One would be wrong.

One example should be sufficient to illustrate the casual relationship between this script and reality. The real Martha Beck was a 233-pound woman so physically repulsive that the first man who got her pregnant tried to commit suicide rather than to contemplate a life with her. So who did Robinson recruit to play that role? Kathy Bates? Rosie O'Donnell? Nah. He picked the notoriously disgusting Salma Hayek. Mind you, Ray Martinez was a bunco artist who originally met Martha and all of his potential marks through personal ads. Does Salma seem like a woman who would need to advertise in the paper to get worthwhile dates? The rest of Ray's known real-life victims were also physically unappealing, as you might expect, all of them desperate enough to be ripe for seduction by a young, handsome con artist. Their fictional equivalents were filled by attractive women. The woman who was bludgeoned to death by Martha in a fit of jealousy when she saw her naked with Ray was actually a 66-year-old spinster, the type with sensible shoes and thick glasses. That role was assigned to elegant Alice Krige, who was a classy 52 and damned attractive, sexy enough to fan the flames of much younger men.

In addition to the glamorized casting choices, the script skirted reality in other ways. It assigned murders to the couple which they did not commit. It changed the details of some they did commit. But it stayed close to the facts on some other murders. It completely changed the circumstances of the couple's arrest. It omitted some of the juiciest details, like the fact that Ray believed that his power over women was attributable to his expertise in voodoo, or that fact that Ray was a normal guy with a nice family in Spain and a great record of service to the allies in WW2 until a freak accident nearly crushed his skull and caused some pathological personality changes. One of the most interesting details of the real story is that the obese Martha Beck was a highly competent nurse who finished first in her nursing class and was consistently promoted in record times. After her conviction, Martha was aghast at her treatment in the New York tabloids, which ridiculed her unsightly appearance just as her classmates once had, so she wrote sensitive, literate letters of protest to the editors from death row! Underneath her corpulent exterior, she was an extremely capable and competent woman who desperately longed to be loved, and achieved that longing by latching on to a crazy fraud, whereupon the two of them brought out the worst in each other.

If you don't care about historical accuracy, and just treat this as a fictional noir with a vague historical backdrop, ala Brian De Palma's The Black Dahlia, you may enjoy some of the eccentric characters and the lurid details of casual sex and cold-blooded murder. Unfortunately, the interesting (if sometimes imaginary) details about the lives of the killers are only half of the story. The rest of it is about some cops in New York eating donuts, arguing among themselves, and adapting to problems with their families and girlfriends. The film plods slowly when the cops are on screen, perhaps because it concentrates on their irrelevant personal interactions rather than their crime-solving.

Here's a tip for you youngsters. If you're going to write a script about famous people who were involved in violent incidents, like the Lonely Hearts Killers or George "Superman" Reeves, your audience is going to go to your movie to see those famous people. Don't devote half of your running time to some detectives who are working out their soap opera problems and talking to their kids about getting paper routes. It doesn't matter whether the detectives are real or fictional. Nobody cares about them. It doesn't even matter if the lead detective was your grandfather. The only difference that makes is that one person cares about them instead of none. And that does no good because I assume you are not going to pay for a ticket.

The film has plenty of star power. In addition to the beautiful Hayek, Barbarino and Tony Soprano are hanging around as the homicide detectives. The least famous of the four stars, Jared Leto, turned out to be the one guy in the production who seemed to care about historical accuracy, and he created a Ray Martinez who seemed to be a perfect evocation of the killer I have read about. There are other positives besides Leto's performance: nice production values; interesting period details; good cinematography. The film looks impressively good, to the point where I could have forgiven the inaccuracies in the killer half of the story if there hadn't been so much boredom in the cop half. Unfortunately, the combination of those two factors means that Lonely Hearts is just an adequate flick that seems like it should have been much better.


* widescreen anamorphic, 2.35








3 The Guardian (of 5 stars)
3 BBC  (of 5 stars)
50 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
60 Metacritic.com (of 100)





6.6 IMDB summary (of 10)
C+ Yahoo Movies





Box Office Mojo. Despite famous names, and an obviously substantial budget, the studio virtually gave up on the film. It never reached more than 24 theaters and grossed a whopping $188,000.




  • Shannon Murphy - frontal nudity with her pubic area covered by a lifted leg.
  • Alice Krige: breasts.



Court TV. Excellent, thorough recaps of the real-life crimes.

Serial Killer Database

Wikipedia entry for Ray Martinez Fernandez



Web www.scoopy.com

Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


So-so movie, which seems to have had greater potential.