Appellate Judge Mac McEntire is a poet, and didn't even know it. (Winner! DVD Verdict's "Oldest Joke Used in a Blurb" 2006!)
"Ladies of the Moral Rectitude and Seven Sins Society, you
tuberculin-tested hags, I oppose the fabulous immensity of your
Meet Sampson Shillitoe (Sean Connery, The Untouchables), a genius poet. Despite having a book of his work published and some critical acclaim, he's having a tough time making ends meet. He lives in a run-down apartment with his wife Rhoda, (Joanne Woodward, Rachel, Rachel), and he has a dead end day job as a carpet cleaner, to match her low-paying job as a waitress. Fed up with society, all Samson wants to do is finish his latest poem, which he feels will be his greatest work, if only he could find just the right inspiration, not to mention a nice quiet room to work uninterrupted. As Samson gets more and more abrasive and frustrated, Rhoda seeks out the aid of Dr. West (Patrick O'Neal, Under Siege), a psychiatrist whose expertise is helping patients overcome writer's block. But getting Samson the help he needs won't be an easy task. He's on the run from bill collectors, he's insulted a crowd of old ladies at a posh poetry reading with his anti-establishment opinions, and he's an object of desire for any beautiful woman he meets. Will Samson find a moment's peace to write his poem, or will he succumb to A Fine Madness?
This movie reminds me of a conversation I once had with a friend:
My friend: Why do beautiful women in movies always fall for guys who
are sensitive poet types?
Throughout the film, Samson is—let's face it—a jerk. So why is his wife so devoted to him, and why do women everywhere get all turned on just by being in the same room with him? Oh, that's right, it's because he's Sean Connery. The filmmakers made the most of Connery's Bond-era celebrity, both by pairing him up with numerous women throughout the film, and adding plenty of other moments where ladies are checking him out. Even the cover art on this DVD shows a smiling Connery pursued by women in various states of undress. The truth is, though, that Samson is really running to be left alone, and he rarely, if ever, smiles about anything.
A lot of critics give films low marks for "unlikable characters." Whether that has any validity is a debate for another time, but viewers should know that Samson comes across as pretty unlikable throughout A Fine Madness. He pretty much hates everyone he meets, and has no hesitation about telling them. Sure, some of his witticisms are good ones, and often deserved, but spending an entire movie following this bitter loudmouth as he rants and raves about the importance of his poetry over all other things will be daunting for many viewers.
As I said above, Samson makes a habit of getting it on with any women he meets, often within minutes of meeting them, even though he is married. But he's not the only one. Know going in that this movie takes quite a loose stance when it comes to adultery. The script generates a lot of subplots and side characters for Samson to run into on his adventures, and every married character is adulterous in some way or another. It's as if the movie takes place in an alternate reality in which cheating on your spouse is OK, just because everyone else is doing it. Were the "swinging 60s" really this swinging?
I understand that this film is generally well-liked among Connery's fans, and among those who saw it in the theaters back in 1966, but I have to admit the humor here just didn't work for me. When angry with his wife, Samson threatens hitting her, throws furniture at her, and then tosses her down some stairs. And the thing is, this scene is played for laughs. Later in the film, there are a lot of satirical bits about West and a bunch of other psychiatrists debating the right kind of treatments for patients. I can see how the script is attempting to point out fallacies in the practice of mental health, but it still comes across as a little too dry on screen. Now, I'm no prude. All this politically incorrect stuff can be made humorous with the right tone. Look at stuff like Curb Your Enthusiasm if you don't believe me. But it just never clicked with me in A Fine Madness. I think that during the movie, I was supposed to chuckle to myself, and continually ask, "Oh, Samson Shillitoe, you loveable scamp, what zany misadventure have you gotten yourself into this time?" But I never did.
In a contrast to Samson's attitude, the movie paints New York City in a bright, colorful light. This is an idealized, romantic vision of New York, with streets filled with cool characters, and a new surprise around every corner. Sampson's lonely walk across the Brooklyn Bridge near the end is the visual highlight of the film. We've all seen photos of the bridge, and a good number of us have no doubt driven across it, but in this movie it comes across as a wondrous, almost magical place. A Fine Madness was directed by Irvin Kershner, and big, grand moments like this bridge scene likely helped in his being tapped by George Lucas to helm The Empire Strikes Back.
Technicolor was king in the 1960s, and this DVD brings also those super-bright (though some might say garish) colors to the small screen with amazing clarity. The audio is better than most mono tracks out there, making the most of the jazzy soundtrack. The only extras are a theatrical trailer, and "Mondo Connery," a short film from 1966 showing Connery on set, while a narrator talks about cool the star is. It's a nice curiosity piece, and interesting to see how they did these featurettes back then, but there's very little substance to it.
If you're a '60s nostalgia fan who has fond memories of A Fine Madness and you think it's a laugh riot, well, then, we disagree. I like Connery, I like Kershner, and I like the supporting cast. But this movie just bored and frustrated me instead of delighting me. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "Mondo Connery" Vintage Featurette
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