Affair to remember, or, rather, one that will be hard to forget

Posted: June 08, 2007

As sick and twisted codependent relationships go, the five-decade linkage of Burt and Linda Pugach - he a personal-injury lawyer-slash-movie producer, she a glamorous New York gal many years his junior - takes some kind of cake.

Dan Klores' straightforward (and straight-faced) documentary, Crazy Love, lays out the details of this tragicomic affair. It began, unbeknownst to one of the participants, the then 21-year-old Linda Riss, quite literally as an affair. That is because when Pugach, owner of a giant ego, a spiffy nightclub and a private plane, first started squiring the lovely Ms. Riss around town, he was a married man.

After he was found out and reneged on his promise to divorce, Linda called off the romance. And then Burt hired some thugs to throw lye in Linda's face, causing permanent scarring and near-total blindness. Burt went to trial, was found guilty and shipped off to jail. Linda tried to get on with her life. And the New York newspapers had a field day.

And then the tabloids really had a field day: When Burt was released from prison, he and Linda married. He had been writing to her all along from behind bars, professing his love, his profound regret and remorse. She was without skills, without sight, with few friends and fewer options in life. She signed on for the bargain.

They've been living together, nagging and needling each other, ever since.

Klores has acres of archival footage - TV talk-show appearances, news reports, newspaper headline montages - at his disposal. His separate interviews with Burt and Linda are excerpted at length and played off of one another to canny effect. Many of the duo's respective friends and associates sit down to offer talking-head anecdotes and observations. And columnist Jimmy Breslin, who covered the story and came to know the pair, chimes in.

A Bronx tale full of jaw-dropping behavior and jaw-dropping hairdos, Crazy Love may or may not be a love story. It is, however, most definitely a story about pain - physical and mental - and how one person can inflict it on another.

And then how the other person can receive, and reciprocate, berate and bemoan. With the Pugaches, it's been like that for almost 50 years.


Crazy Love *** (out of four stars)

Directed by Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens, written by Klores, distributed by Magnolia Pictures. With Burt and Linda Pugach.

Running time: 1 hour, 32 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (profanity, adult themes)

Playing at: Ritz Five, and Showcase at the Ritz Center, N.J.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/stevenrea.

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