From the depths of the 80s comes this soapy film about a publisher played by Nick Mancuso whose father issues fuel not only his rise but also his fall. When the movie starts, Mancuso is dying because he’s been shot by an unknown assassin but he still needs someone to give him some answers before he can give up the mortal coil. Much like Dutch Schultz deliriously babbling about his dog Biscuit after getting fatally wounded, Mancuso spends his last minutes flashing back to how he became America’s most controversial magazine publisher.
In a ruthless and methodical fashion, Mancuso rose up the ranks from being just a lowly photographer to being the publisher of Love, a magazine that may remind you of Playboy and Penthouse but which is definitely not either one because it’s called Love. Because sex and nudity sells, Love grows to be a billion dollar empire but, along the way, Mancuso uses and alienates everyone who gets close to him. With his outspoken views on politics and his advocacy for free love and personal freedom, he also become the number one enemy of anti-pornography crusaders everywhere. Only his partners, Nat (Michael Lerner) and Annie (Sela Ward), are willing to stay with him, mostly because they’re both in love with him.
Mancuso is obsessed with running a rival publisher out of business. Jack Kraft (Rip Torn) is just a ruthless as Mancuso and he also might be his father. In fact, everything that Mancuso does is because he wants to get revenge on Jack for not being there for him as he was growing up, even though he doesn’t have any definite proof that Jack is actually his father and Jack refuses to say whether he is or isn’t. As Mancuso lies on his death bed, Jack stops in for one last visit. Mancuso finally asks Jack flat-out if he’s his father. “I don’t know,” Jack answers, as the film draws to a close. I know that’s a big spoiler but it probably does not matter because this film has never been released on video and it probably never will be. My mom has a copy on VHS tape, which she recorded when it originally aired in 1987. It even has the original commercials. It’s possible my mom may have the only copy of this film in existence, I don’t know.
The King of Love‘s attempt to be daring and racy is sabotaged by its origin as a made-for-TV movie from the 80s. There may be a lot of talk about sex but you’re not going to see or hear anything that could have gotten ABC fined by the FCC. What’s most interesting about The King of Love is the way that the film combines the personas of the three most famous adult magazine publishes. Mancuso dresses like Bob Guccione, spouts Hugh Hefner’s philosophy, and ultimately suffers Larry Flynt’s fate. Otherwise, the movie’s not very interesting at all but it is also ways enjoyable to watch Rip Torn play an arrogant bad guy and Michael Lerner manages to overcome a bad script and give an effective performance as Mancuso’s conflicted second-in-command.