Appellate Judge Tom Becker believes it madness to try and stare down John Travolta.
"You were a good lover."—Assault case against Joe Dallesandro faces a possible setback
Using tied bedsheets, a man climbs from a window and scales down a wall. In his tight tank top and jeans, he looks like an escapee from a Sergio Valente ad. But this is no foppish model; it's Gio (Joe Dallesandro, Trash), a master criminal.
Although he's a lifer, Gio somehow lucked out by being placed in a prison that has one guard, no barbed wire fences, no dress code, and sturdy sheets. On top of that, his escape isn't even discovered until the next day, since that's when the "urgent bulletin" blares on the radio.
Anyway, Gio jogs from the prison and happens upon a guy loading things into his car. Gio sneaks up and conks the guy with a rock. But the guy has a friend who comes after Gio with a pitchfork! Unfortunately, the guy must have an optical astigmatism, since he can't seem to connect the fork to Gio's barely moving form. Gio wrests control of the pitchfork, and…well, let's just say, he gets the car.
Gio—who incongruously sports a big tattoo that says "Joe" (which would be like Steve McQueen sporting a big tattoo that said "Esteban")—drives to a remote little house. It seems he's buried 300 million lira in the fireplace, and now he's here to collect. Unfortunately, the owners of the cottage show up for a vacation week end: Sergio (Gianni Macchia, The Italian Connection); his wife, Liliana (Patrizia Behn, Play Motel); and her slutty sister, Paola (Lorraine De Selle, Cannibal Ferox).
This happy family unit is none too happy. Sergio and Paola are having an affair, something even the dimwitted Gio figures out—well, he does spy them carrying on through a conveniently open window. The only person who doesn't figure this out is Liliana, but she has sex with Sergio the night they arrive while Paola masturbates in the next room; I think Gio watches all that too.
So, not only is Gio the only one not having sex, but there's that pesky 300 million lira buried in the fireplace. There's only one thing to do: assault the women and dig up the hearth.
Only, the whole "assault" business gets murky when it's followed up with shared cigarettes and whispered endearments.
That is pretty much the size and substance of Madness, an anemic effort from director and writer Fernando Di Leo.
Madness is a low-rent affair from start to finish. It's not interesting visually, what little action there is seems tagged on, and the actors aren't engaging enough to make the psychological aspects work. The score is recycled from Di Leo's vastly superior Caliber 9, and the same soundtrack that added a dimension to the earlier film just seems out of place here.
There's a lot of sex, but none of it is especially compelling. Inexplicably, the only actor who doesn't get naked is Dallesandro. I don't understand. This is the second Italian exploitation movie I've seen with Dallesandro in which he didn't get naked, the other being Killer Nun. How could a guy whose claim to fame in America was walking around naked in Warhol movies—he even had an erection in Flesh, for heaven's sake, I believe the first such occurrence in a non-porno—how could he go to Europe, where everyone walked around naked in exploitation films and be the only one not walking around naked? It's pruriently mind boggling. On top of that, he's dubbed (obviously, since this is an Italian language film), meaning that his distinctive Brooklyn accent isn't here either.
Stripped of the accent and unstripped of the clothes, we're left with a short, athletic-looking guy who stares a lot and is oddly graceless. His movements seem forced and awkward; out of his New York artgrind milieu, he seems like just another amateur.
Di Leo, who choreographed exhilaratingly violent set pieces in films like Caliber 9 and Rulers of the City, seems to have lost his mojo here. The fight between Dallesandro and the guy with the pitchfork is ridiculously ungainly; people do things like throw pick axes at each other, run naked to escape, and have slap fights with kung-fu movie sound effects. It's all just so cheesy.
Perhaps the most impressive and macabre aspect of Madness—besides the Olympic-level volume of sex acts—is the big, grinning poster of Saturday Night Fever-era John Travolta that adorns the wall and ends up pulling focus throughout the film. Forget Laura; forget Rebecca; forget everything you know about Dorian Gray. If you want to see a movie in which everything revolves around a portrait—well, a poster—then Madness is it. Like a beatified icon courtesy of Tiger Beat, Travolta knows all and sees all, his eyes seemingly following the action, what there is of it. Sadly, even just as a picture on the wall, Travolta is more charismatic than any of the actors here.
Raro offers a typically good technical presentation—the image is overall solid, though soft in spots, and the mono audio track does the trick—but scrimps on supplements. Besides some on-screen text info on Di Leo, the only supplement comes by way of an illustrated booklet with an essay by Eric Cotenas of Cineventures. I would think that for American audiences, particularly those interested in cult films, Dallesandro might be a selling point, and an interview with him would certainly have boosted my opinion of this disc.
My first experience with Di Leo was the fantastic Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection that Raro released in 2011. It not only represented the best work Di Leo did as a director, but the best work I've seen from Raro. Subsequent Di Leo films that I've watched—including Slaughter Hotel and Loaded Guns—haven't really lived up to the expectations set by the earlier ones. Madness doesn't do anything to burnish my regard for Di Leo or Raro.
Not completely guilty, just not as luridly fun as it should be.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Raro Video
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