Just how crazy can being in love make you? Just ask Burt Rugach and Linda Riss, subjects of the film Crazy Love, whose star-crossed, bizarre love affair has spanned more than 50 years. Starting with their magical first date in the late 1950s, through a first year of dates at glam nightclubs, to Linda's discovery that (oops!) Rugach was already married, to Linda's subsequent dumping of Burt, to Burt's stalking her relentlessly, the couple's love affair was fraught with drama.
Linda was both beautiful and insecure when she met Burt, who was a wealthy negligence attorney at a time when the term "ambulance chaser" was just coming into vogue. Burt wasn't particularly handsome, but he was rich and exciting; he owned a nightclub and his own plane, he had a new car every year, and he showered Linda with attention, even having the house band at his glamorous nightclub play the song "Linda" whenever Linda walked in. For his part, Burt was a man of contradictions: he had both an enormous ego and enormous insecurity, a potent combination, especially when combined with an abusive mother and a deeply-rooted sense of disdain for women. When interviewed for this film about his various affairs and transgressions, he was casual and almost dismissive of them, as if affairs are something a man is just entitled to have, and lying nothing more than a game.
The melodrama of Linda and Burt's relationship reached what ought to have been its penultimate moment when Burt hired a trio of thugs to throw lye into Linda's face after he learned she was engaged to another man, permanently blinding and disfiguring her. For most women, that would probably have been the deal-breaker. But years later, after Burt, sentenced to 30 years in prison for maiming Linda, was released on parole, the two ended up dating again, and ultimately married. At the time the film was shot, the odd couple had been married for over 28 years.
The beauty of this documentary, co-directed by Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens, is that it takes material that could have easily been fodder for some true crime series for Court TV, and presents it as if it's a black comedy (which, I suppose, it is in a way). There's some truly brilliant editing, musical scoring and direction going on here, at times pulled off so subtly that you don't even realize until later just how clever it was. The tale itself isn't especially funny, of course -- after all, this is a story about a philandering, possibly psychotic man who permanently blinded and disfigured a woman just because she was about to find happiness with someone else -- but the underlying melodramatic aspects of the tale, with Linda and Burt ending up together, just made it too wild a story to take a strictly straightforward approach with.
The path Klores and Stevens follow, pulling out the more humorous threads of a tale that's been related over the years through lurid headlines in every tabloid paper and magazine, and been fodder for cheesy talk shows including Geraldo and Sally Jessy Raphael, and weaving them together into an engaging, intelligent, feature-length film, is really quite brilliant. I saw the film with a fairly packed house, and the audience was laughing out loud throughout the screening. I'm not sure what Burt and Linda think about the finished film that tells the tale of their lives and love, but from watching them on the screen, I'd be willing to bet they both like it just fine.