'Crazy Love'

EntertainmentMoviesArts and CulturePhotographyCrime, Law and JusticeJustice SystemDan Klores

A singular case of truth being stranger than fiction could ever hope to be, Dan Klores' meticulously sourced and researched documentary "Crazy Love" tells the story of a dangerous romantic fixation that took a dark turn and wound up splashed all over the papers in summer 1959, before we had words for things like sexual harassment. And crazy stalker.

A successful lawyer in his early 30s, Burt Pugach spotted Linda Riss sitting in the park one day. A pretty, working-class girl in her early 20s who had never gone out with a lawyer before — let alone one who owned a Cadillac, a small plane and a nightclub. Riss found him strange but his attention flattering.

Pugach, meanwhile, became increasingly obsessed. When she broke up with him and became engaged to somebody else, he hired a thug to pose as a deliveryman, knock on her door and hurl lye in her face.

A contemporary Greek tragedy, the ongoing saga of Pugach and Riss, which Klores follows through the mid-'90s, is packed with unexpected twists and astounding reversals.

To give away any more would detract from the experience of watching the film, which Klores, co-director Fisher Stevens and editor David Zieff have paced so expertly that each revelation comes as a shocking surprise. In tone and suspense, "Crazy Love" feels like a noir thriller, a feeling that's heightened by a great, addling score by Douglas J. Cuomo. For a film about a story as lurid as this, however, "Crazy Love" is surprisingly sensitive. You don't get the sense that the material is being exploited for its sensational qualities. What emerges instead is a fascinating portrait of two complex and damaged people forced to deal with the consequences of their actions.

Constructed from interviews of Pugach, Riss and childhood friends, biographers, former employees, journalists (Jimmy Breslin weighs in, among others), bodyguards and others, as well as a cache of photographs, newspaper clippings and photographs, "Crazy Love" delves deep into the psyches of Pugach and Riss to uncover a story of passion, regret, denial, insanity and other inscrutable facets of the human experience.

At one point, Klores thought about making a feature film out of the material, but it's a good thing he decided against it. You could not make this stuff up.

carina.chocano@latimes.com

"Crazy Love." MPAA rating: PG-13 for language and mature themes. Running time: 92 minutes. In limited release.

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