Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on November 3, 2011
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 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).
Other cast members such as 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 it 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. What other film dares to pay tribute to Antonioni’s BLOW-UP while 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 decide 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.
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