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WHEN LOVE IS MORE THAN MERELY STRANGE

Crazy Love (PG-13) (93 min.) - It was love at first sight for Burt Pugach when he spied Linda Riss on a sunny 1957 day in the Bronx. He had to have her, and did for a while.

When Linda didn't love Burt anymore, he took away her sight.

That isn't the only reason Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens titled their documentary Crazy Love. The craziest stuff happened years later, after Burt served time for hiring thugs to splash acid in Linda's face, blinding her forever. He wanted to be certain nobody else would want her.

Linda forgave him, out of lonely self-pity more than anything else. They have now been married - not entirely happily - for 18 years.

Burt wasn't handsome, but he was rich by 1957 standards, an ambulance-chasing lawyer who owned a nightclub, an airplane and whose friends included actor Keefe Brasselle. Linda was gorgeous and easily impressed. But we can see Burt's eyes in those vintage photos, and read the insanity in his glare.

Linda eventually wanted her freedom, but Burt was relentless. Then he was enraged when she became engaged to a better looking and well-adjusted man. The acid attack thrust them into the spotlight. The suitor deserted Linda when it faded.

Plenty of twists and twisted devotion come later in Crazy Love. Nothing further will be revealed here since the element of surprise is the film's strength.

Crazy Love is a fairly standard documentary account of an astounding story, bolstered by access to Pugach's home movies and photographs, plus some devilish music cues. However, in terms of style, the movie isn't any more ambitious than a Court TV or Dateline NBC special.

But the story constantly shocks and surprises, unless you recall the scandal that kept New York tabloids frothing for two decades. Then it may seem like an elaborate tease, delaying too long the emotional kicker of the Pugachs' reconciliation.

Despite its notoriety, Klores and Stevens unfold the story slowly, cutting between recent interviews in which Burt calmly describes his obsession and Linda wears fashionable sunglasses to hide her disfigured eyes. She speaks like an enabler who merely had a bad break, not like a victim.

There is no mystery here, as in the similarly constructed Capturing the Friedmans, which left questions of guilt wide open. No armchair psychoanalysis is offered to explain Burt's or Linda's strange behavior. All we can do afterward is shiver at the oddness of it all, and how it seems so normal to them. B

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