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Crazy Love

Among the fascinations in Crazy Love, Dan Klores' documentary now out on DVD, is noting what a crazy press circus there was in 1960 when just one relationship went kaput in the Bronx.

In a nutshell: Nebbishy thirtysomething lawyer Burt Pugach loves a pretty young girl, Linda Riss, who is eager for the finer things; girl discovers man is married, and dumps him for a less prosperous but more handsome and age-appropriate model. Pugach goes crazy, and after his stalking bears no fruit, hires three thugs to throw lye in Riss' face. She's blinded, but becomes the "lye girl" darling of the tabloid press. Pugach counters with his own courtroom theatrics, including a faked suicide, but he's convicted and jailed. Upon his release a decade or so later -- here's the sick punchline -- he marries Riss, and they live happily ever after.

Crazy Love tells the sordid tale in chronological order, with Pugach and Riss, now elderly, narrating much of their own story. Both have that gift peculiar to some New Yorkers whereby every recounted banality is juiced with perfect deadpan delivery.

Klores' film is largely nonjudgmental, and the maxim bears repeating: People are just confounding, and their relationships aren't ours to truly understand. Yet as entertaining as this twisted real-life soap opera, it's still clouded by our contemporary attitudes.

What seemed to make the 1960 crime so shocking, and ultimately captivating, to the public was the disfigurement. Post-attack Riss wasn't less smart, less lively or even less functional. (She worked and kept her own apartment.) Pugach made her ugly and damaged, effectively negating her value in the marital marketplace where a woman's fate -- home, kids, security -- was sealed.

"If I can't have you, nobody will" (read also: because nobody will want you) -- and so it was, right through to their bizarre reconciliation. Today, the still-feisty Pugach doesn't appear as repentant as he does triumphant -- his act of rage transformed Riss into an emotionally vulnerable pariah, left with only his love to rescue her.

Ultimately, this is their love story, however they sort it out. Beneath the rubbernecking allure, the relationship to me seems sad and toxic -- even as they vamp endlessly in their assigned roles. But if love were neat and tidy, we'd have far less compelling material for newspapers, talk shows and even semi-serious documentary films.

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