Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Director Irvin Kershner gets a lot of print space for his later, flashier action pictures like The Empire Strikes Back and Never Say Never Again but in the 1960s he represented for many the best hope that Hollywood could produce quality, progressive dramas. He made four films in a row that consistently broke with expectations and presented interesting actors in offbeat roles. The Luck of Ginger Coffey starred Robert Shaw as a working man who never gets ahead because he consistently alienates his employers with exaggerated ideas of his own worth. The Flim Flam Man is an interesting comedy about a runaway's tutelage under a con man, starring George C. Scott and Michael Sarrazin. Loving is an insightful drama about a failed commercial artist risking his marriage with ill-conceived affairs.
A Fine Madness is billed as a wild comedy but like most Kershner movies has a downbeat aspect. The loveable, irascible hero played by Sean Connery has a wild week of amorous adventures, but we're always aware that he's putting real people at risk, especially himself. It's probably too neurotic to win broad appeal, and perhaps Connery isn't perfectly suited to the part, but the movie overflows with good scenes and interesting situations.
New York poet Samson Shillitoe (Sean Connery) is a mess. He can't keep up his alimony payments and must continually duck summons servers to avoid being sent to jail. He loses his job as a rug cleaner because he can't resist the women who invariably come on to him, like the secretary (Sue Ane Langdon). Meanwhile, Samson's harried wife Rhoda (Joanne Woodward) tries to boost her husband's spirits while taming his violent temper. When he gets $200 for a disastrous poetry reading to a women's club, she gives the money to Park Avenue shrink Dr. Oliver West (Patrick O'Neal), who is interested in the effect of stress on creativity. Unfortunately, Samson makes a better connection with Oliver's bored wife Lydia (Jean Seberg).
It's a mad world out there, and poet Samson Shillitoe can't seem to make his way in it. All he wants is a little peace to complete his book, but there are too many temptations and frustrations. His ditzy wife Rhoda is willing to put up with most anything but never catches on to his almost constant string of quickie affairs. His carpet-cleaning machine obscenely disgorges mountains of bubbles that alert the rest of Sue Ane Langdon's office to their lovemaking in the conference room.
John Fielder's persistent summons server keeps Shillitoe constantly on guard and nervous. The only time that Samson finds a quiet place to work is when he breaks into Dr. West's office; they carry on a funny debate about the nature of psychiatry. Samson meets an unhappy man (Sorrell Brooke) who is shocked to find out that the reason his wife (Zohra Lampert) is visiting Dr. West is due to an infidelity. Samson volunteers to straighten her out, until he realizes that the woman is one of his earlier conquests!
A Fine Madness steps into less funny territory when the normally congenial Dr. West discovers that Samson has been intimate with his wife, played dreamily by the interesting Jean Seberg. Both she and therapist Colleen Dewhurst have quickly fallen under Samson's sexual spell. Dr. West removes his objection to the plan of radical Doctor Menken (Clive Revill): Alleviate Samson's status as a social misfit by performing a double frontal lobotomy on him.
Author and screenwriter Elliott Baker almost but not quite spins A Fine Madness into science fiction territory. Will the lobotomy 'cure' Samson of his anarchic creative drive? Or will it turn him into a Frankenstein's monster? The basic idea isn't that much different from A Clockwork Orange, using a little surgery to correct a social maladjustment.
The cast list alone is enough to warrant giving A Fine Madness a trial spin. Besides the stars we have fine actors like Colleen Dewhurst (The Nun's Story) Clive Revill (Avanti!), Kay Medford (Funny Girl), Werner Peters (1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse), Zohra Lampert (Splendor in the Grass, Bibi Osterwald, Jackie Coogan, Richard S. Castellano and René Taylor. Up top is the spirited Joanne Woodward, who unfortunately always seems to be working too hard. She nevertheless provides excellent support for Connery. Frankly, maybe it's the wig.
Connery is good, if also perhaps a bit overdone as the two-fisted poet. We want to like him but there's little excuse for his excesses -- Samson's destruction of the ladies' club afternoon tea seems an arbitrary need of the story rather than something Samson would really want to bring about. Shillitoe is all ego and selfishness, and his charm doesn't quite compensate. That seems to be the underlying truth about all four of Irvin Kershner's disaffected 60s heroes -- Shaw, Connery, Scott and Segal ... they're all unhappy men who really don't like other people much.
Warner's DVD of A Fine Madness is a bright and punchy transfer from excellent film materials, with John Addison's rather standard score sounding fine in the clear audio track. The only extra is a puffed-up behind-the-scenes featurette that was also typical of the time, selling Connery as the most magnetic star in pictures. The cover art is from the original poster and shows that Warners really didn't know how to sell this quirky, individualist picture -- it looks like a warm-up for the art for Half a Sixpence.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
A Fine Madness rates:
Movie: Very Good
Supplements: featurette Mondo Connery, trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 27, 2006
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson