The Love Machine was based on Jacqueline Susann’s third and final novel. Her books are authentic trash masterpieces which I highly recommend and the film captures their glamorous sleazy atmosphere perfectly.
Robin Stone (John Phillip Law) is a handsome young local newscaster determined to reach the top in the world of network television. Greg Austin (Robert Ryan) runs the IBC television network and when his wife Judith (Dyan Cannon) assures him that women will swoon over the young newsreader he decides to take a chance and promotes Stone not only to the position of anchor of the network’s national news but also head of the entire news division.
This proves to be both a stroke of genius and a fatal error. Pretty soon Stone is virtually running the network and when Greg Austin has a near-fatal heart attack Stone finds himself really running the network. His sudden elevation to the pinnacle of success seems to be largely due to the influence of Judith Austin with whom Stone is having an affair. When Greg Austin is finally sufficiently recovered to take back the reins of power he finds that this will not be as easy as he thought. Robin Stone has no intention of relinquishing his position and (unfortunately for Greg Austin) he’s been so successful that firing him is almost impossible.
Stone’s position does have one major weakness. He has been as ruthless in his pursuit of women as in his pursuit of power and his habit of quickly discarding lovers has made him many enemies. When he tries to give Judith Austin the brush-off he discovers that the boss’s wife doesn’t take kindly to such treatment. And Judith Austin is not a woman to make an enemy of. Stone’s violent out-of-control behaviour towards women will also prove to be a factor undermining his apparently secure position.
The film covers similar territory to the over-praised Network, written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet. While critics gushed over Network they had nothing but scorn for The Love Machine but the latter is in some ways more effective, linking sleazy business practices and the media’s contempt for its audience to the general atmosphere of moral squalor of the television-movie-media world and to the moral collapse of the 70s. The message seems to be that if your personal moral code is that of an alley cat you probably won’t behave any better in your professional life.
I can’t say that I disagree. Certainly the movie is effective in demonstrating that Robin Stone treats the viewers of the mythical IBC network and his colleagues the same way he treats his women.
While it’s often dismissed as pure camp The Love Machine has much in common with the glossy 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk. The look and the style of the movie represent Sirk updated to the 70s.
John Phillip Law’ performance was criticised as being colourless and wooden but in fact it’s right on target. Robin Stone is the perfect celebrity and the perfect media manipulator - he believes in nothing, he merely reflects whatever his audience wants him to be. He’s a mirror for other people’s narcissism.
Robert Ryan is excellent. Greg Austin is really just an older and less crude version of Robin Stone. He’s a step on the evolutionary path that eventually produced Stone. David Hemmings is impressive as the homosexual fashion photographer who is the closest thing Stone has ever had to a friend. He’s a cynical opportunist, but with Stone’s cruelty. Jodi Wexler is also quite good as fashion model Amanda, one of the many women Stone beds and then discards. She has made the fatal mistake of thinking that free love has something to do with love.
The movie has glamour and sleaze but the most overwhelming characteristic of the world it describes is its complete nullity - these are people who live in a moral and intellectual vacuum and any contact with real life is fatal to them.
While it lacks the over-the-top high camp magic of Valley of the Dolls it’s essential viewing for lovers of sparkling trash.