Coasting on, simply, a terrific story, “Crazy Love” overcomes its shortage of directorial dash and triumphs as an engrossing documentary about an immensely, inimitably deranged relationship. He’s a possessive madman, and she, in her loyalty to him, is warped, too. But with their combination of extremity, intensity and longevity, the pair exude a fascination element, and filmmaker Dan Klores captures it.
It’s hardly a spoiler to detail the case of Bronxites Burt and Linda Pugach, a tale of abuse and obsession that has made headlines for decades and is so outrageous that you can know the specifics and still be shocked by them.
Less a tabloid-type account than an earnest attempt at psycho-portraiture, the film begins its chronicle of the saga in 1957, when 30-year-old Burt Pugach, a well-off ambulance-chasing lawyer, spies 20-year-old Linda Riss, an Elizabeth Taylor semi-lookalike, on a bench and is smitten. The two date, and modestly bred Linda delights in the swank nightclub outings and private-plane rides Burt offers.
But after learning that Burt is married, Linda bolts and gets engaged to a Florida man. Burt responds by hiring hoods to throw lye in Linda’s face, blinding and disfiguring her so nobody, except himself, will want her. His sick thinking works. Following his 1974 release from jail, Burt proposes, and Linda accepts. Decades later, comedy eclipses tragedy as we see the now-elderly pair bickering. Never mind that, as recently as 1996, Burt was again acting heinously.
Is this love? Insanity? Is romantic love itself a form of delusion? Klores, relying largely on talking-head remarks from Burt and Linda and friends, doesn’t adequately examine these questions or his subjects’ clockwork. But Klores knows he’s got a dynamite story, and his straightforward, focused presentation of it, assisted by the uninhibited commentary he draws from those interviewed, makes for an amazingly interesting picture of what the human-need morass can spawn.
Burt and Linda, for their part, display a mix of colorful demeanor and egregious conduct that translates into potent nonfiction in these days of the personality documentary. Burt, goateed and creepily assured, displays no redeeming traits as he discusses his “love” for Linda. Linda, looking iconic in her wig and sunglasses, emerges as both a sad product of unenlightened times and a feisty survivor.
In the end, you’re sickened by him and can’t quite embrace her, but the indelible impression they make is worth experiencing.
Crazy Love ***
Starring Burt and Linda Pugach
Directed by Dan Klores, with Fisher Stevens
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes