Sunday 6 March 2022

Movie Review: The Love Machine (1971)

A drama set in the world of television executives, The Love Machine is an emotionally hollow crawl towards trashy fun.

In New York City, Robin Stone (John Phillip Law) is the young and handsome local news anchor at the IBC television network owned by Greg Austin (Robert Ryan). Stone starts a romance with fashion model Amanda (Jodi Wexler), but he is not interested in the long-term commitment she eagerly seeks. Stone is also good friends with openly gay fashion photographer Jerry Nelson (David Hemmings), but rebuffs his advances for a relationship.

Greg's wife Judith (Dyan Cannon) spots Stone's potential as a woman magnet and therefore a ratings booster. Greg responds by rapidly promoting Stone, causing friction with seasoned executive Danton Miller (Jackie Cooper). Judith starts an affair with Stone and seeks to become his permanent lover. When Greg suffers a health crisis, Stone's career appears unstoppable, but happiness will prove elusive.

An adaptation of the Jacqueline Susann best-seller, The Love Machine carries the whiff of glossy ambitions hampered by budget constraints. In the hands of director Jack Haley Jr. and writer Samuel A. Taylor, the exotic sex-saturated world of network television power brokers and fashion models is reduced to the level of, well, a cheap television show. Despite two Dionne Warwick original songs (one bad, the other worse), the available talent is nowhere near good enough to convey the intended cut-throat connivance and jet-set glamour.

A big part of the problem is the central character of Robin Stone, who remains a stiff emotional vacuum sucking energy out of the screen. John Phillip Law was a late replacement in the role and never settles, and the script does not help by providing no context for Stone's cold-blooded lust for power and narcissism. And yet every woman in the movie falls in love with him at first sight, and in a questionable interpretation of feminism, both Amanda and Judith (and other peripheral women) are sexually liberated but rush to define their self-worth by craving a man's immediate commitment.

Meanwhile, the storytelling shortcomings are further exposed in a barely relevant but time consuming sub-plot. Stone's rival Danton Miller finds a surprise hit in a low-brow show featuring comedian Christie Lane (Shecky Greene). He is catapulted from second-rate lounge act to national stardom, and rapidly falls in eternal love with the model Amanda. Having fulfilled the role of obstructive non-entity, Christie summarily drops out of the movie.

Entertaining snippets lurk within the various cluttered corners. In fashion photographer Jerry Nelson, The Love Machine features a well-rounded and prominent gay character. The visuals obsess over close-to-bizarre representations of leading-edge fashions, the women valiantly trying to pull off looks normally reserved for the runway. A bedroom is set on fire while a threesome heats up in the shower.

The tone finally flirts with unintended slapstick by somehow contriving a wacky four-way fight between two gays, one heterosexual, and one woman. Then the drama ends without ending, a suitable send-off for an exercise in blunderous ogling.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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