It’s often said that real life is stranger than fiction. The stunning documentary Crazy Love is proof of that adage.
In New York City in the late 1950s, Burt Pugach, a successful ambulance-chasing attorney, fell hard for a glamorous young woman named Linda Riss, whom he approached after seeing her sitting on a park bench. Romance flourished as Pugach wined and dined her in exclusive nightclubs, showering her with flowers and gifts.
However, Pugach harbored a secret: Riss learned that the man who seemed to be the perfect catch was already married. She planned to leave him.
Facing the impending loss of Linda, Pugach did what every love-obsessed morally bankrupt attorney would do: he proclaimed he was divorcing his wife, even providing Riss with phony divorce documents purportedly filed in the notoriously corrupt Russell County Circuit Court in Phenix “Sin” City, Alabama.
Pugach also strung Riss along with promises of marriage once his divorce was finalized. They went shopping to pick out rings and planned the wedding together, even writing invitation lists. When Riss finally uncovered the truth, she was disgusted and infuriated by his lies and dumped him.
In his deranged fixation Pugach stalked her, never ceasing to try to woo her back. She recognized the danger and repeatedly tried and failed to get the police to act on her complaints.
Eventually, Riss met another man and became engaged, driving Pugach into a jealous rage. In his wrath, he became fixated in his determination that if he “can’t have Linda, no one else will.”
Pugach contracted to exact revenge and had Riss blinded. A media frenzy erupted over the horrific allegations, launching the disbarred attorney’s twisted demonstrations of affection onto the front pages of newspaper and magazines across the county. Pugach was eventually convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
After his release in the 1970s Pugach remained infatuated and obsessed with Riss. He was able to arrange to meet her in a social setting. The end result is astounding, shocking, and downright fascinating.
Using archival film, including home movies, commercial footage, newspapers and private photo collections, director Dan Klores tells the story in linear fashion through interviews with the subjects and their circle of friends. Clips from contemporaneous TV talk shows are also interwoven into this mesmerizing cinematic display.
The depth and detail of background information about Pugach and Riss from their childhoods contributes to this film’s quality. Pugach’s dysfunctional family history included physical abuse. One of his longtime friends recalls attending his strange Bar Mitzvah, saying, “Who ever heard of a Bar Mitzvah being held at a Chinese restaurant?”
Crazy Love is a documentary masterpiece, which will certainly keep your undivided attention throughout as the story twists and turns with each shocking, yet true, revelation.
The Champagne Spy
You are a 12-year-old Jewish boy living in Israel in the early 1960s, when suddenly you and your family move to Paris, and your father begins leaving on extended “business trips” with short visits home a few times a year.
Then one day your father tells you why he is never around: he’s a spy with the Mossad, Israel’s equivalent of the CIA, assigned to work undercover in Egypt. It’s a secret you must never tell anyone because it would jeopardize your own father’s life.
Ever wonder about the lives of the family members of spies? Here’s a good opportunity to find out. The Champagne Spy, by director Nadav Schirman, tells the story of Major Ze’ev Gur Arie of the IDF, who became a spy for the Mossad in the 1960s. Originally from Germany, he went undercover in Egypt under the assumed identity of Wolfgang Lotz, a wealthy expatriate German ex-Nazi.
The story is told through the eyes of his son Oded, who broke his silence about his life with the famous Israeli spy.
Arie’s mission was to infiltrate the expatriate German community in Egypt and develop friendships with scientists who were building weapons systems for the Egyptian government. He was well funded and entertained with extravagance, hence the film’s title. He opened a horse stable to offer riding lessons and breed racehorses and lavished expensive gifts on his “friends” to develop an extensive network of sources.
Arie developed high social status within the German community and formed relationships with ranking Egyptian officials. He essentially became the persona of his assumed identity, growing accustomed to the luxury and pleasures of his position.
The plot thickened when Arie married an expatriate German woman. He did so with the full knowledge of his Mossad overseers, but not his family. His Israeli bosses believed it would help him keep his cover and expand his usefulness.
When Mossad officials realized Wolfgang was emotionally involved with the woman, some became concerned about his conduct and its impact on his family. Yet they never actually intervened. Eventually, he was caught when one of his Egyptian employees discovered a radio transmitter hidden in his bathroom scale and turned him in.
When Wolfgang and his German wife were both arrested, he concocted a sly explanation to save their lives. They were convicted and imprisoned and his real family tried to get him freed.
When he was finally released in a prisoner exchange, he abandoned his real family for his German bride and strived to attain the luxurious lifestyle of his spy past.
This film is a thought-provoking story well told about the impact on the lives of the family of one high-profile spy.