Cast & Crew
About to jump from New York's Manhattan Bridge, Harry Berlin is interrupted by former college classmate Milt Manville, now a Wall Street broker by day and a junk dealer by night. In return for this unsolicited favor, Milt asks Harry to rid him of his wife, Ellen, a disgruntled intellectual, so that he might marry Linda, a voluptuous gym teacher. Although at first indifferent to one another, Harry and Ellen fall in love and a divorce is quickly effected. Linda's union with Milt, however, is unsatisfactory. Having granted Ellen all his worldly possessions in his haste to have Linda, Milt finds himself the impoverished tenant of a bare apartment, his sole diversion watching Linda grow fatter and fatter. Ellen is similarly disenchanted with Harry, whose indifference to her allure surpasses that of Milt. Discovering that they are still in love, Milt and Ellen conspire to rid themselves of their new partners by introducing Harry to Linda. Having already met, neither party is impressed. Armed with Harry's old suicide note, Milt and Ellen plan his murder. While attempting to toss him from the Manhattan Bridge, Milt falls into the river, where he is joined shortly thereafter by Ellen and Harry. Passing by, Linda joins in the mutual rescue effort. As their bodies touch, Linda and Harry are magnetically attracted.
Harold F. Kress
William Randall Jr.
Charles J. Rice
Frank [a.] Tuttle
For Columbia Pictures' film adaptation, producer Martin Manulis hired Elliott Baker, who had just come off a successful stint adapting his own play to the screen for A Fine Madness (1966), directed by Irvin Kershner. Baker had little choice but to open up the Schisgal play by adding new characters and locations; the film does begin on the Brooklyn Bridge, as Harry Berlin (Jack Lemmon) is poised to jump into the water below. A man comes by on a scooter and stops to pick a lampshade out of the trash. He recognizes Harry and distracts him from his task, reminding him that he is Milt Manville (Peter Falk), an old college friend. Milt takes his friend to a neighborhood bar, where he soon has Harry belting out the old school fight song at the top of his lungs. Milt then brings Harry to his suburban house to meet his loveless wife Ellen (Elaine May, wife of original play director Nichols). Surveying Milt's tiny backyard, Harry says "This is it, huh? This is the reward for diligence, and self-confidence, and perseverance? Then let me get it over with!" as he tries to hang himself with a clothesline. Milt talks Harry out of it and explains that he has something that he believes in that keeps him going Love. Not love for his wife, mind you, but love for his mistress, a blond named Linda (Nina Wayne). Under a trapdoor in his living room, Milt keeps piles of bric-a-brac for his second-hand business, and he also keeps photos of his girlfriend away from Ellen's prying eyes. Ellen will not give Milt a divorce so he hatches a plot to have her fall in love with his poor friend Harry.
A clear indicator that Luv was not going to have any degree of Black Comedy bite were the feeble suicide attempts that Harry carries out early in the film. Harry lies down in front of a bulldozer, but lies parallel to the path and under an enormous wheelbase he was never in any danger of being run over. Similarly, the backyard tree that he ties a clothesline to is a sapling that would never hold his weight. The intent of the film is not very clear; if it is not going for Black Comedy, it also fails miserably as farce. Jack Lemmon's playing is wildly broad, but the style takes his character in the opposite direction of the disaffected New Yorker of the play. Many close to the production recognized that both the casting and the "opening up" of the play drastically diluted the theme, and more importantly, the comedy. As Don Widener wrote in Lemmon: A Biography, "Luv became one of those Hollywood oddities the picture that gets produced despite the fact that everyone agrees it is certain to bomb. It did."
Kathleen Carroll, writing in the New York Daily News nails the main problem, saying Luv "has no heart," and that "Jack Lemmon wasn't meant to be Harry. He may look like a loser Bowery thin with rheumy eyes. But looking isn't enough; and trying so hard to be funny in the part is too much." More to the point was Wilfrid Sheed, writing in Esquire magazine, who points out that Lemmon killed the essential New York-ness of the story. "Luv is technically a New York movie," Sheed writes, "but by the simple insertion of Jack Lemmon it has given itself that Bel Air look. The original play, safe in the hands of Alan Arkin, included a batch of kitsch intellectualism, alienation and whatnot. It was probably kinder not to tell Lemmon about this. ...The whole sense of Western thought, misunderstood and in bad decay, that makes New York living what it is has gone from the movie, save for the brooding features of Elaine May which tell it all."
Bosley Crowther in the New York Times was more forgiving of the film, saying "if you are feeling careless and a bit on the giggly side, not concerned with the surrender of your reason or the frittering away of your valuable time, you should find this frantic movie version of the Murray Schisgal play good for ah hour and a half of relaxation and a lot of frivolous guffaws." Crowther notes the addition of new locations in the translation from the stage, and says "there is something perpetually disturbing about conjoining with these kookie characters in such reasonable places as a lawyer's office... or a Levittown living-room." The players "clomp and clown broadly," he writes, and "...the principal characters do tend to become monotonous, especially the blowsy Mr. Lemmon and the starchily detached Miss May. They are permitted by Clive Donner, the director, to strike their one notes of essentially identical ennui and pessimism too many times."
The advertising that Columbia Pictures came up with further distorted the intent of the piece; the ad art veered toward the psychedelic and utilized a naughty tagline that promised "LUV is fun... try and make it!" Audiences sensed a dog and stayed away in droves. The failure of Luv did not hinder Jack Lemmon's career in the slightest; he moved directly from this project to the filming of another Broadway hit, Neil Simon's The Odd Couple (1968). In this outing, the pitch-perfect casting of Lemmon as Felix Ungar (along with Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison) resulted in one of the most successful stage-to-screen translations of the 1960s in complete contrast to the fate that befell Luv. A few years later, a darkly comic look at family "values" amidst the isolationist angst of New York City living was explored to great effect in Little Murders (1971), based on a play by Jules Feiffer. The director of this memorable effort, interestingly enough, was none other than the original Luv Harry, Alan Arkin.
Producer: Martin Manulis
Director: Clive Donner
Screenplay: Elliott Baker, based on the play by Murray Schisgal
Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo
Production Design: Albert Brenner
Music: Gerry Mulligan
Film Editing: Harold F. Kress
Cast: Jack Lemmon (Harry Berlin), Peter Falk (Milt Manville), Elaine May (Ellen Manville), Nina Wayne (Linda), Eddie Mayehoff (D.A. Goodhart), Paul Hartman (Doyle), Severn Darden (Vandergist).
By John M. Miller
Location scenes filmed in New York City, at Niagara Falls, and in California.
Released in United States 1967
Released in United States 1967