Leonard Kastle, 82, considered one of America's most intriguing one-shot movie directors, died May 18 at his home in Westerlo, N.Y., after a brief illness, said Tina Sisson, a friend.
When Mr. Kastle's debut movie as a writer and director, The Honeymoon Killers, was released in 1970, critics raved over the grimly realistic, low-budget, black-and-white crime drama about a lowlife lothario and his overweight nurse lover whose partnership in conning lonely women leads to murder.
French director Francois Truffaut called it his "favorite American film."
Mr. Kastle's first film was destined to be his last.
Neither he nor producer Warren Steibel had any filmmaking experience when they set out to make The Honeymoon Killers, which gained cult status in America and Europe.
Mr. Kastle, who earned a bachelor's degree in 1950 from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, was an opera composer whose work had aired on television, and Steibel was the producer of William F. Buckley Jr.'s TV series Firing Line.
But after a wealthy friend of Steibel's agreed to put up $150,000 to finance a low-budget movie, Steibel asked Mr. Kastle to write the script.
The movie was based on the true-life story of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, the so-called Lonely Hearts Killers who were executed at New York's Sing Sing prison in 1951.
The movie was shot on location in and near Albany, N.Y., in eight weeks, with Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco playing Beck and Fernandez.
The film's original director was a young Martin Scorsese. But Scorsese's filmmaking pace was too slow, and he was soon removed. Industrial filmmaker Donald Volkman then stepped in for a time before Mr. Kastle took over as the credited director.
In his review of the film in the New York Times, Roger Greenspun described Mr. Kastle as "the real star of the movie," saying his direction placed him "among the important deliberate artists of his medium."
But then Mr. Kastle vanished from the world of cinema. He returned to composing and later began teaching - not that he didn't try to make a big-screen comeback.
He wrote a number of screenplays over the years. And for decades, he tried to make The Wedding at Cana, his story of corruption involving the Catholic Church and organized crime set in the 1970s. He came closest to making the film in 2001, but financing fell through. - Los Angeles Times