The Insane But True Story Behind the Movie, ‘I Love You to Death’

I Love You to Death, a dark comedy released in 1990, was directed by Lawrence Kasdan and featured Kevin Kline, Tracey Ullman, Joan Plowright, River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, and William Hurt. The film is largely based on the real-life story of Frances and Tony Toto from Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Kevin Kline as Joey Boca.

The True Story of Frances and Tony Toto

Frances and Tony Toto were a married couple residing in Allentown, PA, where they owned and operated a pizzeria. In 1983, Frances discovered that her husband, Tony, was having multiple affairs. Enraged, she enlisted the help of two teenage hitmen, to kill her unfaithful spouse. The plot, however, turned out to be a series of failed attempts that were both bizarre and oddly comical.

Frances first attempted to poison Tony with barbiturates, which she placed in his food. Tony, who was suffering from a cold, mistook the symptoms of the overdose for the flu and continued eating his dinner. Miraculously, he survived this initial attempt on his life.

Unperturbed, Frances and her accomplices tried to kill Tony in various other ways, including shooting him, blowing up his car and beating him with a baseball bat. Tony survived all five murder attempts and eventually reported the incidents to the police, leading to the arrest of Frances and her cohorts for attempted murder.

Shockingly, after Frances Toto was arrested and convicted for her role in the murder attempts, her husband, Tony Toto, demonstrated remarkable forgiveness and sympathy towards his wife. Despite the fact that Frances had tried to kill him multiple times, Tony bailed her out of prison and the couple stayed married. She did, ultimately, serve a four year prison sentence for her crimes, but he waited for her, welcoming her home once again.

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The Making of I Love You to Death

Inspired by the bizarre and darkly humorous true story, Hollywood filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan decided to create a feature film based on their experiences. Kasdan, who had previously directed successful films such as The Big Chill, Silverado, and The Accidental Tourist, was drawn to the Totos’ tale due to its unique blend of comedy and tragedy. Screenwriter John Kostmayer adapted the true story into a script that would eventually become I Love You to Death.

In the film, the characters of Frances and Tony Toto were transformed into Rosalie and Joey Boca. The movie follows the same basic plot as the real-life story, with Rosalie discovering Joey’s infidelity and enlisting her mother and a group of eccentric characters, including Marlon and Harlan, to murder her unfaithful husband. Much like in the true story, Joey survives multiple murder attempts in increasingly absurd ways.

The cast of the "I Love You to Death" true story.

The Cast of I Love You to Death

I Love You to Death boasts an impressive cast of Hollywood actors who brought the darkly comic story to life. Kevin Kline, known for his work in films such as A Fish Called Wanda and Sophie’s Choice, played the role of the philandering Joey Boca, while British actress Tracey Ullman plays his vengeful wife, Rosalie.

The supporting cast included Joan Plowright as Rosalie’s mother, the late River Phoenix as a love-struck employee of the pizzeria, Devo, and Keanu Reeves and William Hurt as the bumbling would-be assassins, Harlan and Marlon. Phoebe Cates and SNL alum, Victoria Jackson, play two of Joey’s mistresses.

Critical Reception

Upon its release, I Love You to Death received rave reviews from critics. Siskel and Ebert gave it two thumbs up. The movie has since gained a cult following, with fans appreciating its cast and the true story that inspired it.

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Where Are Tony and Frances Now?

As of 2023, Tony and Frances are celebrating 57 years of marriage. They’ve given multiple, recent interviews stating their continued love for one another. The couple still resides in Allentown, PA and Tony managed to save every newspaper clipping and story written about them over the years, donning headlines like, “LOVE CONQUERS ALL”.

He added that better communication was needed at the time, and that this period in their tumultuous relationship was “tough”, but he ultimately forgave his wife when he realized the lengths she would go to, nearly loving him “to death.” She also stated it was a “love/hate” thing and rage which caused her out of character behavior at the time, and that she wasn’t in her right mind.

As for the cast and crew of I Love You to Death, many of them have continued to enjoy successful careers in the film industry. Director Lawrence Kasdan went on to direct and co-write numerous films, including entries in the Star Wars franchise.

The cast of "I Love You to Death".

Kevin Kline, Tracey Ullman, Keanu Reeves, and William Hurt have all maintained thriving acting careers, appearing in numerous films over the years. The legacy of I Love You to Death remains, as the film’s blend of black comedy and true crime is a reminder of the stranger-than-fiction nature of real life.

The fact that Tony Toto bailed Frances out of prison and the couple managed to stay together, despite the dramatic circumstances, is still shocking to some. The couple’s decision to stay together, proves that life can often be more surprising and unpredictable than any Hollywood film.