[box cover]

A Fine Madness

For many film geeks, the case of director Irvin Kershner is open and shut. Sure, he must have brought something to the classic Empire Strikes Back (1980), but then there's both Never Say Never Again (1983) and Robocop 2 (1990) to answer for — they are truly miserable. Kershner was George Lucas's film-school professor and was brought into the Lucasfilm franchise, so the success of Empire could be attributed to the writers, including Lawrence Kasdan. But Kasdan also scripted the less-than-ideal Return of the Jedi (1983). Modern cineastes are doomed to embrace in some small way the Auteur theory, and yet Kershner's career post-Empire is a wasteland. What else is there to do but look to his previous work? The director specialized in character dramas, and one of his best non-Star Wars works is 1966's A Fine Madness. Sean Connery (who was trying to shake his James Bond persona) stars as poet Samson Shillitoe, who is married to waitress Rhoda (Joanne Woodward) but can't help being devil to the ladies. A sprightly satyr, Samson boffs any woman who comes his way by using his unruly charms. His wife feels that he may need psychiatric help, and she enlists Dr. Oliver West (Patrick O'Neal), who she thinks can get control of Samson's unruly temper and alleviate his writer's block. But even after meeting with the shrink (whom he finds useful), he can't help but leave a trail of trouble behind him. Samson's also against the wall because he's about to go to jail if he can't find $300 that he owes in back alimony, but Dr. West offers a solution: Samson can go to the psychiatric hospital he runs, where he can't be arrested. While there, he not only seduces Dr. Vera Kropotkin (Colleen Dewhurst), but also West's wife Lydia (Jean Seberg). It seems the only solution for those around him is a lobotomy. A great minor-key comic piece, A Fine Madness works as a battle between the narcissistic artistic spirit (reminiscent of Alec Guinness's character in The Horse's Mouth) and modern psychiatry. And it should come as no surprise that Madness is squarely against the effects of behavior-management drugs (like today's Ritalin). Connery is in fine form as a lovable imp who believably can't help being such a force of Id that even surgery can't change his nature. As a battle of wills, and a commentary on the idealized artistic temperament, it's a pretty solid effort that is scored poorly but features great New York location work that's shot in an exciting handheld style (it'd feel Nouvelle Vague if everything else weren't so staid). As for Star Wars, Kershner could be a great director, and this is one of his better efforts, which should restore some of the glory of Empire to him. Warner presents A Fine Madness in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) from an acceptable source-print with Dolby Digital 1.0 audio. Extras include the featurette "Mondo Connery" (6 min.) and the film's theatrical trailer. Keep-case.

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