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STUDIO: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 103 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURE: Vintage featurette: "Mondo Connery"
"It’s what One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest would have been had they given Jack’s role to Charles Bukowski!"
Sean Connery, Joanne Woodward, Jean Seberg.
Poet Samson Shillitoe (Connery) published a single volume of his poems, which were well received, and then promptly faded further into obscurity. He’s planning a comeback, though: he’s nearly finished with his epic poem, which he has been working on for the past five years. If only there weren’t so many distractions… For one thing, there’s all these women who want to involve themselves in his life (Woodward and Seberg, notably); for another, there’s all his carefree misogyny.
It seems that the only way he’s going to get some peace and quiet is to check himself into an asylum, where he will be left alone to finish his poem. Except that, one day, the head of the asylum catches his wife with Shillitoe, and prescribes a bit of surgery for our tortured artist.
Our first cap is brought to you by the ConneryCam.
Sounds like a great comedy, doesn’t it? Did you laugh when Ellen Burstyn got her ECT in Requiem for a Dream? How about at McMurphy’s death at the end of Cuckoo’s Nest? (Retroactive spoiler warning.) If so, then A Fine Madness may just be the film for you, dear consumer!
Seriously though, Irvin Kershner, he of The Empire Strikes Back fame, took a story absolutely ripe for pathos and tears and made instead a light drama with comedic sensibilities. Its pacing is colored by the sort of action-synchronized music that you find in a musical, and the word "suicide" is tossed around as if the characters were deciding what flavor of Blizzard to order.
A Fine Madness isn’t strictly a comedy, though. It’s a drama about people you wouldn’t mind meeting, as opposed to a drama about people you’d cross the street to avoid. Its comedic edge comes from the facts that it doesn’t seem to have a moral it’s trying to communicate, and, along with that, its apparently missing interior monologue. This is a surface-based film, guileless and without pretension. How many stories about poets do you know that successfully avoid the pretension pitfall?
The drama is anchored by Connery’s blustery and bellowing Samson. He’s a poet with a soul sloshing in malt liquor and a profound distaste of romanticism. Most of the comedic situations surround Samson, rather than directly involving him, so Connery’s performance doesn’t call for as much humor as some of the other players; nevertheless, he gets a few chances to show off his rather deft comedic timing, and his deadpan deliveries are things of minor beauty. It’s occasionally difficult to suspend your disbelief that Connery is a poet, since neither his language nor demeanor seem more elevated than the common folk, but he does manage to get a few great lines. (My personal favorite comes when he is giving a poetry reading to a hen-crowd women’s group: "I oppose the fabulous immensity of your nothingness!" Samson crows, to general and delicious outrage.)
That Pi guy got it all wrong.
Jean Seberg and Joanne Woodward both turn in fine, if limited, work, as well. Seberg plays the doctor’s wife who dallies with Samson, and Woodward plays his troubled wife. Woodward’s Rhoda tries so very hard to understand both her husbands art and his condition that you can’t help but feel a certain affection for her. Likewise, Seberg’s neglected housewife is adorable, in a liberated sort of way. The rest of the supporting cast
is similarly likable, where appropriate.
is similarly likable, where appropriate.
While it’s great for the audience to have a film populated with characters like that, A Fine Madness runs into the apparent problem that its writer, too, treats his characters with affection — perhaps too much of it. Despite a number of circumstances that could potentially damage a guy or gal, most of the third act reels out without any consequences to the situations Samson involves himself in, which include a frontal lobotomy, spousal abuse, alienation of friends, and resisting arrest. It’s as if no one on the production team wanted to wound poor Samson, so left him blissfully untouched. Unfortunately, this ruins the drama because there’s no build, no climax, no comedown — just an ending so abrupt it’d make Neal Stephenson proud.
A Fine Madness is a light film with a fun premise. You might call it a-moral, but I think it would be more accurate to say that it is unaware of morals. That mindset battles off the dreariness that afflicts other death-of-art pieces, but provides scant common ground for the audience to stand on.
If you throw a Jean Seberg into boiling water, she’ll jump right out;
but if you let the water boil around a Jean Seberg…
The technical specs are serviceable, but nothing particularly brilliant. The colorization is undersaturated by a thin margin, and there are some remnants of dust and scratches that were unable to be cleaned off.
The sole bonus for our edification is a vintage featurette called "Mondo Connery" about guess who. When A Fine Madness came out, Connery was at the top of his game, having been recruited as Bond only four years previous, and the featurette serves as marketing tool to attract potential audiences to the flick.
6.8 out of 10