Jewish banker Byron Levin (Ray Sharkey) lives in a rather fancy Spanish style villa with his bibliophile/book dealer girlfriend Vicky (Susan Heldfond) and semi-senile ex-banker grandfather Walter Klein (King Vidor). Byron’s life takes a dramatic change when he meets with a billionaire silver czar from a German background named Frederic Stockheinz (Klaus Kinski) whose main headquarters of operation are in the fictional South American country of Costa Salva, which is now under a communist dictatorship that styles itself as a nationalist ‘people’s movement.’ Stockheinz knows that Byron wrote a paper on his silver empire for a seminar at Harvard and understands the banker understands his parasitic business model. Stockheinz also knows that Byron is an old friend of the new communist dictator in Costa Salva, Lorenzo Prado (Armand Assante), who is also the son of the kraut businessman’s deceased political leader friend. Indeed, Prado is an archetypical prodigal son who wants to destroy his father's political legacy. Stockheinz offers Byron $1 million to go to Costa Salva to talk Lorenzo out of ‘nationalizing’ the silver business, explaining that his company is “not a corporation but a civilization” and that “Were not in 1949. Nation-states are dead…The future is just money, not the governments; they have no power now. They are owned. In ten years, multinationals will own 65% of the world.” Stockheinz also claims that he loves Lorenzo like a son, but he “should not abuse my love, he must not steal my silver.” Needless to say, not only does Byron turn Stockheinz down, but he also hits on his beauteous and much younger wife Catherine (Ornella Muti), even making the following absurd threat to the lady the first time he meets her, “If you ever touch him again, or any other man, I will kill you,” which causes the sexy, if not seemly pernicious, young woman to smirk with seeming satisfaction. Meanwhile, at home, Byron’s grandfather Walter is beginning to lose his mind, as he forgets who his grandson is and even thinks phantom Nazis are coming to take him away. Grandpa Walter also begins singing negro spirituals like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and tells his grandson to call the Metropolitan Opera to book him a show. One night, Byron gets an unexpected call from Catherine asking him to meet her at a fancy bar in 15 minutes, but when he shows up there, she is nowhere to be found. The next day, Walter meets Catherine at her apartment and assertively states “Let’s go, “ to which she seductively replies, “you’re never going to make love to me.” Naturally, Bryon says a number of provocative things to entice Catherine, even proclaiming that it was as if god had shoved his elbow in his ribs when he first saw her, as he knows it is the fastest way to get into a girl's pants. When Catherine asks Byron if he loves his girlfriend Vicky, he says, “we get along,” as if that is a remarkable achievement. When Byron and Catherine go to make love, the horny banker ironically fails to ‘rise to the occasion,’ so the young lady sucks him off while he sings the “The Star-Spangled Banner.” After they make love (or something resembling it) and Byron admires his lover’s naughty bits, Catherine later recounts how when she was a child she discovered her father's corpse hanging from rafters, with “his penis was sticking and his feet were blue,” hence her rather peculiar relationship with men. Indeed, Catherine is an emotional wreck of a woman who is guided by irrationality, yet she is also playing Byron for the benefit of her husband and soon begins to regret her deceitful ways as she develops a soft spot for the Judaic banker.
After failing in love and then losing his job, Bryon realizes he has nothing to lose and decides to reconsider Stockheinz's offer and thus immediately heads to Costa Salva via airplane with the kraut corporatist and Catherine, who taunts him during the plane ride by flirting around with her hubby. Upon arriving in Costa Salva, Byron and his friends are greeted by dictator Lorenzo Prado, who also develops a particular liking to Catherine. Upon hanging out with his old buddy Prado, Byron realizes his friend has dramatically changed and is quite fanatical, claiming he wants to establish, “a society built on impatience” in a half-joking fashion. Prado demonstrates his power over the proletariat by randomly having sex in public with a female ‘worker’ he spots walking down the road, thus symbolically demonstrating his total power over the people and the land. Of course, things turn ugly when Byron goes to a fancy dinner where Prado and Stockheinz confront one another, with the latter stating the following to the former, “Where did you pickup all this feeling for the people, on your yacht in Monte Carlo…? You don’t care if your people starve.” Naturally, things do not end well and when Byron leaves with Stockheinz in a limo, the silver tycoon tells his driver to kill the banker, but the driver attempts to kill his boss instead, as he is a double-agent who has been hired by Prado to do so. Rather absurdly, Byron saves the life of the man that tried to kill him and Stockheinz generously repays him by ditching him on the side of the road with the limo driver’s bloody corpse, thus resulting in the banker’s arrest and imprisonment in a neo-bolshevik dungeon of sorts. Ultimately, Byron is blindfolded and taken to an open field by a bunch of commie thugs where he is assumedly to be shot with a number of other enemies of the state, but Prado spares his life at the last second. When Byron accuses Prado of being just like Stockheinz, the semi-deranged dictator proclaims that the West is dead and that, “There is a new force on this earth and nothings gonna stop it.” Byron is left at the killing field by Prado, who has just symbolically ended their friendship in a rather cold fashion, so the downtrodden banker is forced to find his way back home. In the end, Catherine ultimately causes Byron to lose everything as his girlfriend leaves him and he even has to get rid of his house after getting back from personal purgatory in Costa Salva. Upon leaving his house with his grandfather to move elsewhere and start a new life, Catherine magically pops up before they leave and asks if there is room in his car for three people, to which he replies with the following question, “Tell me the truth…do you really think we have any chance of lasting together?” Catherine says “No” and Byron replies “neither do I” and Love & Money concludes more bitter than sweetly with an ambiguous ending that will probably piss off most viewers. Ultimately, the film has an admirable message regarding how commies are typically more ruthless and greedy when compared to their materialistic counterparts, the capitalists. After all, whereas the capitalists thrive upon competition, communists want it all to themselves, with the interaction between Stockheinz and Prado demonstrating this.
Featuring classical musical compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach and subversive dialogues about politics, economics, revolution, and globalization, not to mention a memorable performance by Klaus Kinski as a sinister Svengali-like character, Love & Money undoubtedly has all the ingredients to be a cultivated cross-genre masterpiece, but falls more than a little bit short, as if Toback tried his darnedest to assemble the film without having all the pieces. In a way, the film is classic Toback in that it is clearly the work of a man who is a much better writer than he is a filmmaker. And, indeed, like the protagonist of Love & Money, Toback has always taken great risks for his dreams, but very rarely do things work out for him the way he hoped they would, with Fingers probably being the sole example where the film more or less matched the director’s original vision (Toback once admitted in an interview that his only other film that is “free of mistakes” is his rarely-seen 1989 documentary The Big Bang). What makes Toback’s film different from the average Hollywood political thriller trash is that the director’s singular cynicism, pessimism, and iconoclasm bleeds through the film with a vengeance that only he is capable of. While Toback has never been anything even remotely resembling a handsome man, his shameless tactics for attempting to swoon women are not that far off the protagonist of Love & Money, even if he is a bit more pathetic about it as a rather foul fellow who is notorious for lying to underage women about ostensibly giving them acting roles in his latest movie so as to get in their lily white Lolita panties so as to appease his seemingly criminal bestial carnal yearnings. Not unlike his subsequent work Exposed (1983), Love & Money feels like the curious result of what happens when an American Jew attempts to make a European arthouse film. During the early 90s, the satirical magazine Spy would publish a piece on Toback depicting him as a drug-and-pussy-addicted degenerate who pathetically pissed away numerous movies he was working on due to his self-destructive depravity. In 1991 interview with Movieline, Toback demonstrated his equal doses of perversity and paranoia by complaining regarding the Spy article: “Spy hates Jews and sex. Is there ever anything in it that suggests sex is anything but an odious, creepy and vile activity? If they had their way, the human race would become extinct because nobody would fuck anybody. It's like, "Let's get anybody whom we think fucks." They were smart. They hired this very clever girl, [editor] Susan Morrison, who would be really vicious. It's an anti-sexual, anti-Jewish frenzy. Put sex and Jews together and they'd bring on Holocaust II. They're a very dangerous magazine.” Undoubtedly, in a sense, Toback is right as the filmmaker’s entire oeuvre could be used as a damning case against the Jews and the director’s book Jim (1971) is no less incriminating, as he brags regarding his wild and seemingly quasi-homoerotic days living with negro NFL player Jim Brown, “Jim [Brown] is making his rounds … Jane Fonda is there and Sharon Tate … I drift into an old friend, a delicate girl of angled, Nordic beauty … and embark with her on an orgy … Jim joins.” Indeed, maybe a better name for Love & Money would have been ‘Shiksas & Shekels.’