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Director Clive Donner seems to have spent the silver sixties trying to tap into the zeitgeist. Films like What’s New Pussycat? (1965) and Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush (1967) feature a plethora of the biggest names in Hollywood of the era without ever connecting with the verve or the avant-garde of the burgeoning youth culture. Despite all this Clive Donner was the journeyman director chosen to helm Columbia Pictures’ big screen adaptation of Murray Schisgal’s award winning play Luv (which debuted in 1965).

Schisgal’s Luv is a highly satirical portrait of white middle class values about two homosexuals passing for a heteronormative couple in the suburbs. As far as Hollywood executives were concerned the fundamental concept of Schisgal’s play was too taboo for American audiences, even though Staircase (1969) was but a few years away. So Luv was defanged, declawed, and packaged as a Jack Lemon vehicle. And, just to make the film adaptation a little more hip, Columbia cast up and coming talents Peter Falk and Elaine May as the closeted married couple.

Luv (1967), the film, is a mess. Jack Lemon and Peter Falk run around manically espousing outdated liberal slogans and thumbing their noses at the rich without any sense of dramatic or thematic cohesion. As the male leads dart about screaming and attempting suicide, Elaine May’s closeted house wife laments that she’s not with a woman and sets about looking for love in all the wrong places.

One might have expected Clive Donner’s approach to the material to barrow from Richard Lester or William Klein in a bid for cultural relevancy. Instead Donner’s direction of Luv is more akin to that of a heavily sedated Jerry Lewis but without the keen sense of production design. Every second that Luv is on screen it confirms in bold strokes that Clive Donner and Jack Lemon are two of the squarest “over thirties” in Hollywood.

As much as Luv is a train wreck it is a watchable one. Those moments where Elaine May and Peter Falk are on screen are elevated by their chemistry and charisma. Luv was the beginning of May and Falk’s working relationship and it’s fascinating to see them together attempting to bring Schisgal’s material back into the subtext of their scene work. It may be painful to sit through Jack Lemon’s scenes, but these scenes of May and Falk make it worth it.

However, the most satisfying moment in Luv has little to do with the legendary Elaine May or Peter Falk. After an excruciatingly drawn out and obnoxious emotional tirade courtesy of Mr. Lemon a young, cartoonishly dressed Harrison Ford emerges from a Volkswagen Beetle to slug the senior star right in the kisser. It’s a cathartic moment for the already long suffering audience and the anxious vanguard of the then New Hollywood.