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A Fine Madness

A Fine Madness(1966)

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By the mid-1960s, Sean Connery had portrayed Agent 007 in four James Bond films: Dr. No (1963), From Russia With Love (1964), Goldfinger (1964), and Thunderball (1965). Interlaced between those years, Connery lent his leading man charms to Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie (1964), Basil Dearden's crime drama Woman of Straw (1964), and Sidney Lumet's World War II-themed The Hill (1965). When 1966 rolled around, Connery was again ready to display an acting acumen beyond ordering martinis shaken-not-stirred. The result: the main character in Irvin Kershner's peculiar comedy A Fine Madness (1966).

It is not uncommon to laugh and cry while watching a particular film, or even to laugh, cry, and scream in terror. The diverse emotions that A Fine Madness stirs, however, are more difficult to rationalize, contributing to a wholly unusual experience. Based on the novel by Elliot Baker (also the screenwriter), Kershner's film follows the misadventures of creatively parched poet Samson Shillitoe (Connery), whose wife Rhoda (Joanne Woodward) goes to great lengths to ameliorate his situation-including soliciting the expertise of psychiatrist Dr. Oliver West (Patrick O'Neal).

The first third of the A Fine Madness is quite hilarious, as Sean Connery exhibits talents in physical and verbal comedy, evidenced in his outrageous poetry reading at a meeting of the Women's League. The film is even reminiscent of Frank Tashlin's Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), only without the satirical elements and cartoon aesthetics. Upon meeting Dr. West, however, the film takes on a subtly sinister tone. It develops a satirical voice in mentioning the debate between nature vs. nurture and in the plotline of how medicine and science can cure a quick-tempered poet suffering from a case of writer's block. The middle third is an intense promenade around the territory of dark comedy, without the dark lighting scheme. The last third is absurd to the point of disconcertment--imagine Sean Connery in a mental institution with the possibility of receiving a lobotomy.

A Fine Madness may focus on Samson Shillitoe and his antics, but the film itself relies upon and benefits from the strength of the other characters. For instance, Jean Seberg, who starred in Jean-Luc Godard's landmark French New Wave film Breathless (1961), plays Dr. West's wife. There is but a glimmer of that insouciant American mentality she exuded in Godard's deconstructed, reinterpreted gangster film. In Kershner's piece, Seberg is sophisticated, elegant, musical, and comedic when necessary. Joanne Woodward gives an exceptional performance as well, displaying a mixture of feisty zaniness and relentless determination.

In addition to the supporting cast, New York City-where the film is set-also contributes to the multi-faceted nature of Kershner's film. Retrospectively, not only does A Fine Madness contain footage that is significant for its historical value, but it also features a brief but beautifully filmed sequence of Connery dancing about and walking down the Brooklyn Bridge. From the awesome geometry of the bridge to the magnificent view of the buildings below, the film captures a kind of serenity as seen from Samson Shillitoe's eyes. Furthermore, Sean Connery's performance proves that he has more in his artistic arsenal than cool cars, even cooler gadgets, and an uncanny immunity to serious injury.

Included on the DVD of A Fine Madness is a featurette called "Mondo Connery," a promotional short consisting of behind-the-scenes footage, which showcases Mr. Connery's incredible charisma and physical agility.

For more information about A Fine Madness, visit Warner Video.

by Stina Chyn