The Movie Diary

The Movie Diary: Love on the rocks

By Dom Cioffi

Burt Pugach fell in love with Linda Riss the moment he first laid eyes on her. At least he thought he loved her. Others said it was more like an obsession.

Burt didn’t care what you called it just as long as Linda ended up with him. However, there were several problems.

First of all, Burt had a history of sketchy behavior. Secondly, Linda was 10 years younger than Burt (she was 21, he was 31). And third, Burt was not only married, but also had a young child.

On paper, this was not the kind of guy a phenomenally beautiful young woman from the Bronx would want to hook up with and Linda knew it. But Burt was persistent and given that he was a lawyer who was making good money, the gifts and lifestyle slowly wore on Linda’s desire to become upwardly mobile.

Like most wandering spouses, Burt promised Linda he would leave his wife, but that day never came. Finally, Linda had enough and told Burt their relationship was over.

That’s when Burt snapped.

He threatened to kill himself or kill her. He went into great detail about how far he would go to make sure they were together. He was even quoted as saying, “If I can’t have you, no one else will have you, and when I get through with you, no one else will want you.”

Linda reported Burt to the police, but nothing was done.

Linda tried to move on by dating a strapping young man named Larry Schwartz, but as soon as Burt found out they were engaged, he became insanely jealous.

Burt thought about roughing up Larry, but given that he was a slight man, he knew he couldn’t do the job himself. Instead he would hire some thugs to do his dirty work.

But then Burt got nervous. What if Linda simply moved on to another man? That’s when he decided to do the unthinkable.

On a June night in 1959, three men showed up at the door of Linda’s apartment. Upon asking her if she was Linda Riss, one of the assailants threw lye in Linda’s face.

The attack left Linda completely blind in one eye and and nearly blind in the other, with horrible scars across her face.

It didn’t take police long to figure out what had happened. The resulting court case made headlines across the country and became one of the highest profile crimes of passion in history.

Eventually Burt was sentenced to a long prison term, but almost immediately after entering the state penitentiary, Burt began to write Linda love letters and making phone calls begging for her forgiveness.

Burt spent 14 years in prison for his crimes, but never stopped contacting Linda. When he was finally released, he put even more pressure on her to be with him. Eventually she gave in. A short time after being released from prison, Linda and Burt were married.

The resulting marriage generated as much media coverage as the attack years earlier – and this is in time where media coverage paled in comparison to what goes on today.

Unfortunately, after two decades of marriage, Burt got caught in another extramarital affair with a woman who accused him of threats and sexual abuse. And even with damming evidence, Linda still came to Burt’s defense, claiming he was an amazing husband.

The Pugaches were ultimately married for nearly 40 years before Linda passed away in 2013. Their story remains one of the most bizarre and interesting cases on twisted love ever recorded. In fact, if you’re at all intrigued by the Pugaches’ strange love affair, you can watch an amazing documentary entitled “Crazy Love,” which highlights their entire story.

This week’s film, “The Lobster,” also features an unorthodox love story, but this story dives so far into the perverse it’s hard to put into words.

Starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz and directed by Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Lobster” imagines a reality where couples and single people inhabit very different worlds, with each condemning the other to the point of morbid resentment.

If you’re in the mood for something really, really different (and when I say “different,” I mean DIFFERENT), give this film a try. It is unlike any other love story you’ve ever watched – from the plot to the way in which the actors interact. This movie also spends a lot of time digging into metaphors so be prepared to do some intellectual mining in order to understand the overall point.

This has small market written all over it so there’s a good chance you’re going to have to locate a small, artsy theater or wait for the DVD release in the coming months.

A blinding “B” for “The Lobster.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at

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