Jacqueline Susann’s The Love Machine

After the phenomenal success of VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (Marc Robson; 1967), Hollywood was eager to work with Jacqueline Susann again. Producers and studio executives didn’t have to wait long because the best-selling author quickly got to work on another novel, which was immediately optioned by Columbia Studios. The Love Machine was Susann’s third book and like Valley of the Dolls, it received plenty of negative press and lackluster reviews but that didn’t stop the enthusiastic public from buying it.

During Susann’s highly publicized writing career she used her experience in Hollywood as a would-be actress in the 1940s to write lurid tell-all novels that promised to shine a glaring light on the dark underbelly of stardom. Susann’s books avoided hot button issues like the war in Vietnam war and the growing civil rights movement while focusing on the glamorous and decadent lives of the rich and famous. These trashy tell-alls were more fiction than fact but they appealed to millions of readers who were eager for some escapist entertainment. When The Love Machine was released in 1969 it quickly became a bestseller and competed with Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five as well as Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint for the number one position on the New York Times best-seller list before it was adapted for the screen in 1971.

THE LOVE MACHINE tells the sordid story of Robin Stone (John Philip Law), an incredibly handsome news personality hiding his sadistic side behind a million dollar smile and a designer wardrobe. Stone has no qualms about lying and manipulating people to get what he wants and he leaves a trail of broken hearts and battered friendships in his wake. The film follows Stone’s sudden rise to power as an unscrupulous television executive working for a leading network run by Gregory Austin (Robert Ryan). Stone uses Austin’s wife (Dyan Cannon) to gain a foothold in the company but his plans begin to fall apart when his part-time girlfriend (Jodi Wexler) grows tired of his sexual misadventures and abuse. He also finds himself facing the wrath of another company man (Jackie Cooper) who doesn’t appreciate his underhanded business tactics. Things come to a head after Stone has a violent encounter with a prostitute and asks a gay fashion photographer (David Hemmings) to help him cover up his crime.

Like its popular predecessor VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, THE LOVE MACHINE was met with unflattering reviews once it was released. Many critics complained about John Philip Law’s deadpan performance but I appreciate how much he resembles the shrewd and charming news personalities that’s he’s obviously mimicking. Robert Ryan’s role as an aging news tycoon is particularly effective. THE LOVE MACHINE was Ryan’s first film after recovering from a bout with cancer and as usual, he brings a level of humor and thoughtful contemplation to his performance that actually elevates the material at times. David Hemmings also appears to be having fun with his role as a gay photographer, which apes his previous performance in Michelangelo Antonio’s critically acclaimed BLOW-UP (1966). Both Dyan Cannon and Jackie Cooper seem to be delivering their lines with their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks so I find it hard to take them too seriously but they’re sure fun to watch. The film also features cameo appearances by many beautiful starlets such as twin sisters Mary and Madeleine Collinson (TWINS OF EVIL), Maureen Arthur (HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING) and Linda Morand (PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW). And funny man Shecky Greene has an unflattering role as an inept stand-up comedian. The most appealing character in the whole film is played by Jodi Wexler as John Phillip Law’s love interest. Like Sharon Tate in VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, Wexler’s gentle nature and natural appeal seem oddly out of place but she’s very good as the sweet-natured Amanda.

In many ways THE LOVE MACHINE could be considered enjoyable for all the wrong reasons. The film was rushed into production and the star-studded cast occasionally seems underwhelmed by the material. It features some of the most over-the-top dialogue you’re likely to ever hear taken straight out of Susann’s novel, which will undoubtedly generate some unintentional laughs and bewildered looks. It’s also a genuine product of the early ‘70s complete with show-stopping fashions, jaw-dropping period decor and a theme song sung by Dionne Warwick (who also sung the theme song for VALLEY OF THE DOLLS!). This multimillion-dollar adaptation is also somewhat lifeless. It lacks vitality and doesn’t exactly feature the same kind of impressive production values and location shots found in VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. But the film does have its own quirky charm and visual appeal. There’s a subversive element to Jack Haley Jr.’s direction that’s particularly apparent in the casting choices and the way Haley managed to weave multiple pop culture references into the film. A lot of viewers will undoubtedly find THE LOVE MACHINE totally unappealing and a complete waste of time. But what other film dares pay tribute to Antonioni’s BLOW-UP while apparently referencing the Hammer vampire film TWINS OF EVIL? Because of (or in spite of) its kitsch value and camp appeal, THE LOVE MACHINE is a movie after my own heart.

Taken seriously, THE LOVE MACHINE could be seen as an interesting predecessor to NETWORK (1976), which depicted the drama unfolding in the boardrooms and backrooms of high-powered television networks. The film also smartly critiques our blind fascination with popular news personalities who often manipulate the public trust for their own gain. Like Mark Robson, who adapted VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, director Jack Haley Jr. was obviously inspired by filmmakers like John M. Stahl and Douglas Sirk who created shrewd and stylish melodramas in the 1940s and ‘50s such as MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN and ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS. And although I wouldn’t exactly categorize THE LOVE MACHINE as a “woman’s picture” it was based on a woman’s novel that appealed to a large female audience. As a period piece, THE LOVE MACHINE is an unusal time capsule. It’s of its time and yet totally outside it. But as pure entertainment I think it has lots of visual interest and an oddly involving (and at times convoluted) plot. However you decided to approach the film, I think it makes for some unforgettable viewing.

I’m happy to report that THE LOVE MACHINE is currently available on DVD from Warner Brothers as part of their Archive Collection. As my screen captures should make clear, the film looks terrific. It’s presented in wide-screen and the print is crisp and bright. Please visit the Warner Archive site for more information about how you can obtain the film.

32 Responses Jacqueline Susann’s The Love Machine
Posted By quicksand : November 3, 2011 4:52 pm

I had never seen that movie nor read the book before:):)
Thanx for the heads up :)

Rob

Posted By quicksand : November 3, 2011 4:52 pm

I had never seen that movie nor read the book before:):)
Thanx for the heads up :)

Rob

Posted By Kingrat : November 3, 2011 6:42 pm

This looks irresistible. Thanks so much, Kimberly. I don’t whether to lust more after John Phillip Law or his wardrobe.

Posted By Kingrat : November 3, 2011 6:42 pm

This looks irresistible. Thanks so much, Kimberly. I don’t whether to lust more after John Phillip Law or his wardrobe.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 3, 2011 8:27 pm

Quicksand – You’re more than welcome and I hope you get a chance to see it soon.

Kingrat – It is! At least to me anyway. I’ll let you lust after John Phillip Law’s wardrobe because he’s MINE. All mine! He’s seriously something else in this movie. He’s the perfect stoic and a little bit creepy newsman (“Kent Brockman”) but he’s also drop dead gorgeous.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 3, 2011 8:27 pm

Quicksand – You’re more than welcome and I hope you get a chance to see it soon.

Kingrat – It is! At least to me anyway. I’ll let you lust after John Phillip Law’s wardrobe because he’s MINE. All mine! He’s seriously something else in this movie. He’s the perfect stoic and a little bit creepy newsman (“Kent Brockman”) but he’s also drop dead gorgeous.

Posted By Martha C. : November 3, 2011 9:20 pm

Oh my! I remember seeing the paperback novel all disheveled looking on my Mom’s bedside table in the ’70′s…along with those yuck-o John Jakes “historical fiction” series… :D

I’ve read about the film version, but never thought I’d get a chance to see it. Excellent, will look to buy it now! Anything with JPL is a treat, not to mention the rest of the intriguing cast.

Thanks so much Kimberly!

Martha

Posted By Martha C. : November 3, 2011 9:20 pm

Oh my! I remember seeing the paperback novel all disheveled looking on my Mom’s bedside table in the ’70′s…along with those yuck-o John Jakes “historical fiction” series… :D

I’ve read about the film version, but never thought I’d get a chance to see it. Excellent, will look to buy it now! Anything with JPL is a treat, not to mention the rest of the intriguing cast.

Thanks so much Kimberly!

Martha

Posted By CherieP : November 3, 2011 9:46 pm

Hi Kimberly
I love the captures, they’re terrific. I once owned ‘The Love Machine’ on ex-rental video, and it looked kind of…well…tacky. A case of form reflecting content you may ask? You are obviously very fond, and I’m so glad because ‘The Love Machine’ is an easy film to denigrate, which I have done myself on the IMDB.

But I’m so looking forward to seeing it on disc that it makes me feel positively guilty! Thank you!

Posted By CherieP : November 3, 2011 9:46 pm

Hi Kimberly
I love the captures, they’re terrific. I once owned ‘The Love Machine’ on ex-rental video, and it looked kind of…well…tacky. A case of form reflecting content you may ask? You are obviously very fond, and I’m so glad because ‘The Love Machine’ is an easy film to denigrate, which I have done myself on the IMDB.

But I’m so looking forward to seeing it on disc that it makes me feel positively guilty! Thank you!

Posted By SusannahK : November 4, 2011 11:20 am

Oh I am salivating at the prospect of watching this. What a feast for the eyes! I LOVE this shit.

Posted By SusannahK : November 4, 2011 11:20 am

Oh I am salivating at the prospect of watching this. What a feast for the eyes! I LOVE this shit.

Posted By Harvey Chartrand : November 4, 2011 11:59 am

I recall thinking how strange it was that David Hemmings was appearing in a supporting role in a “trashy picture” only five years after reaching the heights of superstardom in Antonioni’s Blow-Up. In 1971, Hemmings was still slim and devastatingly handsome. Nor do Hemmings’ eyebrows yet resemble an elk’s antlers.

Posted By Harvey Chartrand : November 4, 2011 11:59 am

I recall thinking how strange it was that David Hemmings was appearing in a supporting role in a “trashy picture” only five years after reaching the heights of superstardom in Antonioni’s Blow-Up. In 1971, Hemmings was still slim and devastatingly handsome. Nor do Hemmings’ eyebrows yet resemble an elk’s antlers.

Posted By suzidoll : November 4, 2011 2:01 pm

I saw this film back in the day. I don’t think I saw it on its original release because that would have been a long time ago, but it’s been awhile. Funny, I remember it being “lifeless,” like you say, especially compared to the energy of Valley of the Dolls. But, I got to say John Phillip Law may have been very handsome, but he was a bit lifeless himself. Love the 70s decor, though.

Posted By suzidoll : November 4, 2011 2:01 pm

I saw this film back in the day. I don’t think I saw it on its original release because that would have been a long time ago, but it’s been awhile. Funny, I remember it being “lifeless,” like you say, especially compared to the energy of Valley of the Dolls. But, I got to say John Phillip Law may have been very handsome, but he was a bit lifeless himself. Love the 70s decor, though.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 4, 2011 2:44 pm

CherieP – It’s much easier to enjoy the film for what is (instead of what it’s not) when it’s presented in all its widescreen glory. The new DVD is so much better than the old VHS. The colors pop! HIghly recommend it if you’re a a fan of the film or just want to experience it again.

Harvey – It wasn’t exactly a “trashy picture” back in 1971. Like VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, it had some great old Hollywood actors in it (Robert Ryan & Jackie Cooper), who I’m sure Hemmings wanted to work with and he was friendly with Law (had worked with him in BARBARELLA). THE LOVE MACHINE was expected to be a huge financial success like VALLEY was even if the critics didn’t care for it. The movie didn’t make the same kind of money as VALLEY but it wasn’t a total box office flop either.

suzidoll – It’s definitely lacking some of the pizazz of VALLEY but compared to half the stuff Hollywood’s churning out today it’s crackling with life. In retrospect, I think you have to like John Phillip Law if you’re going to enjoy the film. I love him so I get a kick out of seeing him playing a cold calculating newsman and I think he’s perfect for that kind of role. If someone already doesn’t like Law then this film isn’t going to change their mind and they’ll probably end up disliking the movie a lot. Normally an entire film doesn’t rest on the shoulders of just one performer but THE LOVE MACHINE just might be that kind of movie.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 4, 2011 2:44 pm

CherieP – It’s much easier to enjoy the film for what is (instead of what it’s not) when it’s presented in all its widescreen glory. The new DVD is so much better than the old VHS. The colors pop! HIghly recommend it if you’re a a fan of the film or just want to experience it again.

Harvey – It wasn’t exactly a “trashy picture” back in 1971. Like VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, it had some great old Hollywood actors in it (Robert Ryan & Jackie Cooper), who I’m sure Hemmings wanted to work with and he was friendly with Law (had worked with him in BARBARELLA). THE LOVE MACHINE was expected to be a huge financial success like VALLEY was even if the critics didn’t care for it. The movie didn’t make the same kind of money as VALLEY but it wasn’t a total box office flop either.

suzidoll – It’s definitely lacking some of the pizazz of VALLEY but compared to half the stuff Hollywood’s churning out today it’s crackling with life. In retrospect, I think you have to like John Phillip Law if you’re going to enjoy the film. I love him so I get a kick out of seeing him playing a cold calculating newsman and I think he’s perfect for that kind of role. If someone already doesn’t like Law then this film isn’t going to change their mind and they’ll probably end up disliking the movie a lot. Normally an entire film doesn’t rest on the shoulders of just one performer but THE LOVE MACHINE just might be that kind of movie.

Posted By Tom Lisanti : November 5, 2011 9:19 am

I bought this movie too recently on DVD and agree whole heartedly with your review. However, the one casting choice I did not like was Jodi Wexler. I would have preferred Yvette Mimieux or Sue Lyon or Carol Lynley in the role as the fashion model. Wexler, who seemed to have disappeared afer only this one movie, just doesn’t come alive for me in the part.

Posted By Tom Lisanti : November 5, 2011 9:19 am

I bought this movie too recently on DVD and agree whole heartedly with your review. However, the one casting choice I did not like was Jodi Wexler. I would have preferred Yvette Mimieux or Sue Lyon or Carol Lynley in the role as the fashion model. Wexler, who seemed to have disappeared afer only this one movie, just doesn’t come alive for me in the part.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 5, 2011 3:36 pm

Tom – Glad someone else enjoys it too! I think Wexler’s character was extremely naive, sweet, soft spoken, insecure, innocent, etc. which she pulled off well. As much as I like Mimieux, Lyon & Lynley, they often played very self assured & confident women so I’d have hard time believing they could to be seduced by Law & so emotionally dependent on him. That being said, they’re all much better actresses than Wexler. But as you pointed out, it was her first and only (as far as I know) role. I think it’s a shame that she didn’t make more films. I thought she had her own kind of appeal.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 5, 2011 3:36 pm

Tom – Glad someone else enjoys it too! I think Wexler’s character was extremely naive, sweet, soft spoken, insecure, innocent, etc. which she pulled off well. As much as I like Mimieux, Lyon & Lynley, they often played very self assured & confident women so I’d have hard time believing they could to be seduced by Law & so emotionally dependent on him. That being said, they’re all much better actresses than Wexler. But as you pointed out, it was her first and only (as far as I know) role. I think it’s a shame that she didn’t make more films. I thought she had her own kind of appeal.

Posted By Fantomex : November 6, 2011 12:27 pm

@Kimberly Lindbergs: I’m sorry, but this movie is a POS compared to ANY movie made now, ‘bad’ or ‘good’-it’s a shitty adaptation of Susann’s novel, and as such is just as bad as the Valley Of The Dolls movie was. I’d rather watch Transformers: Dark Of The Moon than see this again (and yes, before anybody asks, I’ve read the original novel; it’s better than this mess of a movie)

I’m also getting tired of slams of current movies; keep in mind that one day in the future, if TCM is still around, today’s movies will be classic enough to be aired on it (in fact, most of the movies of the 1980s are now of sufficient vintage to be shown on TCM now.)

Posted By Fantomex : November 6, 2011 12:27 pm

@Kimberly Lindbergs: I’m sorry, but this movie is a POS compared to ANY movie made now, ‘bad’ or ‘good’-it’s a shitty adaptation of Susann’s novel, and as such is just as bad as the Valley Of The Dolls movie was. I’d rather watch Transformers: Dark Of The Moon than see this again (and yes, before anybody asks, I’ve read the original novel; it’s better than this mess of a movie)

I’m also getting tired of slams of current movies; keep in mind that one day in the future, if TCM is still around, today’s movies will be classic enough to be aired on it (in fact, most of the movies of the 1980s are now of sufficient vintage to be shown on TCM now.)

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 6, 2011 2:57 pm

Fantomex – Different strokes for different folks but 1) I happen to love VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (but I like BEYOND THE VALLY OF THE DOLLS more) and 2) When I mentioned LOVE MACHINE was more entertaining than a lot of movies Hollywood is churning out today naturally I was thinking of logical comparisons such as the new romcom NO STRINGS ATTACHED starring Ashton Kutcher or the latest Julia Roberts flick EAT PREY LOVE or the new SEX IN THE CITY movie. As for the book being better than the film version, so what? There are thousands of books better than their film adaptions but I wasn’t reviewing the book.

As for “getting tired of slams of current movies.” Really? Do you find me doing that a lot? Don’t think so. But guess what, I’m tired of people slamming old films and calling them a POS just because they find the wardrobe dated, can’t appreciate the set design or don’t understand the sexual politics of 1971. As I said earlier, different strokes for different folks and all that, but you gave no firm reasons for why you don’t like this film. That’s fine, but I’d personally rather watch Robert Ryan stare at a wall for two hours than have to sit through NO STRINGS ATTACHED. That’s why I love old films. I love the actors. I love the music. I love the decor. No one’s stopping you from watching the latest TRANSFORMERS flick or the latest romcom. You can find them for sale anywhere and everywhere. And I’m sure both movies are playing on some cable TV channel as I type this. I don’t think any new movie is feeling threatened by anything I’ve written here. As for a film like TRANSFORMERS, NO STRINGS ATTACHED, SEX IN THE CITY or EAT PREY LOVE being aired on TCM in the future? Time will tell. But you won’t find me watching them.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 6, 2011 2:57 pm

Fantomex – Different strokes for different folks but 1) I happen to love VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (but I like BEYOND THE VALLY OF THE DOLLS more) and 2) When I mentioned LOVE MACHINE was more entertaining than a lot of movies Hollywood is churning out today naturally I was thinking of logical comparisons such as the new romcom NO STRINGS ATTACHED starring Ashton Kutcher or the latest Julia Roberts flick EAT PREY LOVE or the new SEX IN THE CITY movie. As for the book being better than the film version, so what? There are thousands of books better than their film adaptions but I wasn’t reviewing the book.

As for “getting tired of slams of current movies.” Really? Do you find me doing that a lot? Don’t think so. But guess what, I’m tired of people slamming old films and calling them a POS just because they find the wardrobe dated, can’t appreciate the set design or don’t understand the sexual politics of 1971. As I said earlier, different strokes for different folks and all that, but you gave no firm reasons for why you don’t like this film. That’s fine, but I’d personally rather watch Robert Ryan stare at a wall for two hours than have to sit through NO STRINGS ATTACHED. That’s why I love old films. I love the actors. I love the music. I love the decor. No one’s stopping you from watching the latest TRANSFORMERS flick or the latest romcom. You can find them for sale anywhere and everywhere. And I’m sure both movies are playing on some cable TV channel as I type this. I don’t think any new movie is feeling threatened by anything I’ve written here. As for a film like TRANSFORMERS, NO STRINGS ATTACHED, SEX IN THE CITY or EAT PREY LOVE being aired on TCM in the future? Time will tell. But you won’t find me watching them.

Posted By Dan Oliver : November 7, 2011 12:49 pm

I so much want to believe you called it EAT PREY LOVE on purpose, but I suspect it was just a typo created in the heat of passion. Still, what a great title.

Posted By Dan Oliver : November 7, 2011 12:49 pm

I so much want to believe you called it EAT PREY LOVE on purpose, but I suspect it was just a typo created in the heat of passion. Still, what a great title.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 7, 2011 2:20 pm

Martha C. & SusannahK – Your posts got lost in the shuffle and only appeared online today but I just wanted to say that I hope you both enjoy the film once you get the opportunity to see it!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 7, 2011 2:20 pm

Martha C. & SusannahK – Your posts got lost in the shuffle and only appeared online today but I just wanted to say that I hope you both enjoy the film once you get the opportunity to see it!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 7, 2011 2:22 pm

Dan – I think it was a subconscious typo. EAT PREY LOVE is the film I want to see. EAT PRAY LOVE is the film that was made unfortunately.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 7, 2011 2:22 pm

Dan – I think it was a subconscious typo. EAT PREY LOVE is the film I want to see. EAT PRAY LOVE is the film that was made unfortunately.

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